For small businesses (SMBs), figuring out how to finance a range of expenses from startup costs to marketing to staffing can be overwhelming. Business owners that aren’t ready to give up equity, but want to cover cash flow gaps or accelerate growth often look to business loans. Loans can provide peace of mind that both expected and unexpected costs are covered.
Is a small business loan an installment or revolving loan? It can be either. Understanding the differences between these two loan payment structures is key to choosing the type of loan that works best for your business.
In this post, we’ll cover:
Installment loans allow borrowers to make regular payments (e.g., monthly installments) toward the total owed on the loan until it's paid off. The monthly payment amount stays the same, with interest and fees wrapped into the payment.
SMBs often use installment loans to finance big expenses like equipment or renovation. Loans help cover costs without tying up cash and make it easier to roll large expenses into a predictable monthly budget.
Typical characteristics of installment loans include:
Installment loans may be secured — meaning the borrower puts up collateral for the loan — or unsecured, meaning that no collateral is required. Consider the differences between secured and unsecured loans to determine which is best for your business.
Example use case #1: You're a new café owner and need to purchase an espresso machine, coffee grinder, and commercial refrigerator. The total cost of these items is $60,000. You decide to finance the purchase with an installment loan so you can make payments over time.
Example use case #2: You're a retail store owner and want to expand and renovate your space. The renovations will cost about $250,000. You opt for an installment loan, so you don’t have to pay the full cost of renovation up front.
Installment loans offer some key advantages including:
Despite their advantages, installment loans also come with some downsides:
Revolving lines of credit allow SMB borrowers to draw on the loan as needed, up to their approved credit limit.
In some ways, they work like credit cards — as you make payments, the loan balance decreases, freeing up funds for further use. Despite their similarities, it’s important to note that there are distinct differences between business lines of credit and credit cards.
Revolving lines of credit give SMBs more flexibility in how the loan is used and how to repay it. Typical characteristics of revolving lines of credit include:
revolving lines of credit can be secured or unsecured. They're often used for ongoing financing needs — managing cash flow shortages, funding repairs, purchasing inventory, paying employees, etc.
Example use case #1: Your business is seasonal and you need to manage cash flow during the slow months. A revolving line of credit can provide access to funds when revenue is down, helping you avoid potential layoffs, gaps in marketing initiatives, and other cash flow issues. Since interest is often only charged on the funds you use, you can likely avoid paying interest during the busier months.
Example use case #2: You're a start-up and need funds to cover some steep upfront costs. A revolving line of credit can fund things like paid advertising, product development, or inventory - and as you repay the loan, the funds become available for use again.
Businesses that need access to cash for a variety of purposes may benefit from the unique advantages of revolving lines of credit.
While there are some clear advantages to revolving lines of credit, they're not right for every business purpose.
Disadvantages of revolving lines of credit include:
What's the purpose of the loan? If you need funds for a specific project with a definitive end date, an installment loan may be better. On the other hand, if you need ongoing access to cash for inventory, marketing, or covering cash flow gaps, a revolving line of credit provides more flexibility.
How quickly do you need access to funds? An installment loan can take weeks or even months to get approved and funded — too long if you have immediate needs. A revolving line of credit can provide access to funds in days or weeks.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to get a revolving or installment loan comes down to your business needs and qualifications. But knowing the difference between the two types of loans is an important first step in finding the right financing for your small business. Many lenders offer multiple loan products and, through learning about your unique business circumstances, can help you determine which option is best.
If you're not sure which type of loan is right for your business, Aion can help. Our financing team brings extensive experience in SMB lending. As a team of entrepreneurs, the Aion team is committed to understanding the nuances of each business we speak with. Our range of installment and revolving financing solutions are tailored to meet different business needs.