The ‘Wisdom’ of Borrowing

Borrowing money is often a necessity for a growing and expanding a new business, but it’s also one of the least understood parts of business management. So, what is the best way to go about it?

Only borrow money that is well within the means of the business.

First, use some common sense. (Unfortunately, the first lesson you’ll find in business is that “common” sense is often rare.) In other words, can you afford the repayments and the interest over the length of the loan? It may seem obvious, but it’s an important consideration to take.

Once you’ve decided to take a loan, maximizing on your assets and taking the largest loan possible is not the way to go! Here’s why: let’s assume you have assets of $1 million and you borrow 70 percent ($700,000) against this. This heavy leverage will require a large repayment schedule.

All well and good – but only if you can more or less guarantee that you have, and will continue to have, continual cash flow into your business, and are making profits that will last the length of the loan. Today no one knows this for certain so let’s look at the risk of this loan situation.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s say the interest rate is 6 percent, fixed over 10 years. The interest will be $42,000, plus capital repayments of $70,000 over the 10-year period of the loan. Capital repayments, plus interest in year one is $112,000 or $9,333.00 each month. (In reality, the interest payments will decrease each year because of the annual reductions of capital, but these figures are a good starting point.)

If your planned business expansion – the reason for borrowing this money – is good and if you increase sales and profit using this loan you should be able to afford the repayments. However, that’s two big ifs. There is always a danger when you take a large loan and get stretched by the repayments.

The other downside to this loan scenario is that you have maxed out on your assets, and collateral, and have no financial movement. To me, this could be a slow, self-inflicted punishment of an over optimistic businessman.

I would prefer to utilize a smaller amount of my assets and make the business grow within my control. This way, I would not be putting all of my eggs in one basket. If I had $1 million in assets, I would use $250,000 against a loan, still leaving me with some assets to use if needed. If things do go wrong, you can you handle it with the remaining equity and the business you still have. Keep your cash flowing into your hands, not those of the lender!

When you are maxed-out, the rates offered by the banks are usually off the chart. The bank can pressure you into reducing your debt and you may be forced to sell an asset when the market is low. You will achieve a price less than you expected.

When one of my businesses failed, and I was indebted to the bank, I could demonstrate that I had a way of paying them back, even though it was over a longer period. No big deal for them, as they got more interest. The point was to convince the bank that I could meet the commitment to them. How did I do this?

Having your assets free of loans, or with small loans against them, gives you better borrowing power. Being able to offer a mortgage free building against a loan, or one that has little debt, puts you in the driver’s seat. If you have a valuable asset, you can go to any bank and negotiate. Much different to being told, “This is our offer, take it or leave it.”

Some final tips:

  • · Try and build up as many tangible assets as possible. Real estate, for example: get it paid off or with a minimal loan. You then have something to use when you need cash to expand and grow your business.
  • · Don’t make the tax deduction carrot the reason to borrow and get in debt. For me, paying tax is a treat. The more I paid, the happier I was!
  • · If you use up all of the equity in your property, you lose leverage and control of your assets and become vulnerable where someone else can ring your bell.
  • · Above all else, remember that borrowing money does not make a bad idea a good one!

Sure, fortune favors the brave. I believe success in business is about taking risks – but only ones that you can calculate. Make sure you assess the risk of borrowing carefully and consider the full extent of financial problems if things go wrong. When in doubt, invest in tangible assets and remember: having a business heavily mortgaged is like driving a car with the brakes on. Many smart people have ruined a good business because they are over geared.