business line of credit vs loan

Business Line of Credit vs Loan: Which One Is Better for You?

Ezra Cabrera | July 10, 2024


    Running a small business is exciting, but it can also be financially demanding. Fortunately, there are options available to help you cover costs and fuel growth. However, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming when it comes to small business financing.

    This article will focus on two of the most popular financing solutions: the business line of credit and the small business loan. Understanding the key differences between these options, you’ll be well-equipped to choose the one that best suits your needs.

    What is a Business Line of Credit?

    A business line of credit is a flexible financing option that gives you access to a set amount of money you can use as needed. Unlike a traditional loan, where you receive a lump sum and start making fixed payments immediately, a line of credit lets you borrow and repay the funds on an ongoing basis. It is ideal for managing short-term financial needs, covering unexpected expenses, or taking advantage of business opportunities as they come up.

    How Does a Business Line of Credit Work?

    A business line of credit functions similarly to a credit card. You receive a pre-approved credit limit based on your personal or business credit score, annual revenue, and overall financial health, and you can withdraw funds up to that limit as needed. Unlike a loan where you receive a lump sum, you only pay interest on the amount you borrow. The available credit refreshes for future use as you repay what you've withdrawn. This creates a revolving source of funds that can be particularly helpful for covering unexpected costs or seasonal fluctuations in your income.

    For example, if your credit limit is $50,000 and you borrow $10,000, you still have $40,000 available. Once you repay the $10,000, your available credit returns to the full $50,000 – just like a credit card.

    Pros and Cons of Business Line of Credit


    Access to larger sums of money
    Business loans can provide significantly larger funding than credit lines, making them ideal for significant expenses like equipment purchases or property renovations.

    Fixed interest rate
    Interest rates on business loans are typically fixed for the entire loan term, offering predictability in your monthly payments.

    Disciplined spending
    Receiving a lump sum upfront encourages focused spending on the designated purpose of the loan.


    Stricter qualification requirements
    A business loan often requires a strong credit history, a solid business plan, and collateral (assets pledged as security).

    Interest on the entire amount borrowed
    You pay interest on the entire loan amount from the day you receive the funds, even if you don't use it all immediately.

    Potential cash flow strain
    Fixed monthly payments can strain your cash flow if your business experiences slow periods.

    A Quick Overview: Business Loan vs Line of Credit

    FlexibilityBorrow as needed, reuse creditOne-time lump sum, fixed terms
    Repayment TermsPay interest on the amount borrowedRegular monthly payments
    Interest RatesVariable, can fluctuateFixed, predictable
    UsageManaging cash flow, short-term needsLarge, planned investments
    QualificationRequires strong credit, consistent revenueRequires good credit, possibly collateral

    Understanding the difference between a business line of credit and a loan is crucial when deciding between them. Both offer financial support but cater to distinct needs and operate differently.

    Let's check out these key differences to help you pick the right tool for your business goals:

    • Flexibility

      Line of Credit: This option allows you to borrow money up to a set limit as needed. You can draw funds multiple times and repay them to reuse the credit. This makes it ideal for managing fluctuating expenses or seizing short-term opportunities.

      Loan: A business loan offers a lump sum upfront that must be repaid over a fixed term. Once the loan is taken, the terms are fixed, and the amount cannot be reused after repayment. This structure is better suited for significant, one-time investments or large purchases.

    • Repayment Terms

      Line of Credit: You only pay interest on the amount you borrow. This can be cost-effective if you don't need the entire credit line. Repayment terms can be flexible, with some plans offering interest-only payments initially. This allows you to manage cash flow during slower periods.

      Loan: Business loans have a fixed repayment schedule. You'll make regular monthly payments that include both the principal and interest. This provides a clear and predictable payment plan for budgeting. However, you'll be repaying interest on the entire loan amount from the beginning, even if you don't use it all right away.

    • Interest Rates

      Line of Credit: Interest rates on lines of credit are typically variable, meaning they fluctuate based on market conditions. This can make predicting your exact borrowing costs more challenging over time.

      Loan: Business loans often come with fixed interest rates, locking in your interest charges throughout the loan term. This offers consistent and predictable payments for easier budgeting.

    • Usage

      Line of Credit: Need a buffer for unexpected costs or fluctuating expenses? A line of credit acts like a revolving credit card with a pre-set limit. You can access funds as needed, up to your limit, and repay them to free up credit for future use. This makes it suitable for ongoing or unpredictable needs.

      Loan: Gearing up for a large, one-time expense like new equipment or a marketing campaign? A business loan provides one lump sum of money upfront. This is ideal for planned, specific purchases where you need the entire amount at once.

    • Qualification

      Line of Credit: Obtaining a line of credit generally requires a strong credit history and a steady income stream for your business. It might be more challenging to qualify for if your business is new.

      Loan: Similar to lines of credit, good credit and financial stability are important for qualifying for a business loan. However, some loan options allow you to use collateral to strengthen your application. This makes them easier to obtain, especially if you have a solid business plan.

    How to Choose Between a Business Line of Credit vs a Loan

    Choosing between a business line of credit and a loan depends on your needs and financial situation. Consider what you need the funds for, how quickly you need them, and how you plan to repay the borrowed amount. Here’s how to decide which option is best for you:

    • When Should You Get a Business Line of Credit?

      A business loan is a great choice when you need a large sum of money for a specific purpose. Here are some of the situations where a business loan might be the best option:

      • Big Purchases. If you need to buy expensive equipment, vehicles, or real estate, a business loan provides the lump sum necessary for these large investments.
      • Expansion Projects. When planning to expand your business, such as opening a new location or launching a new product line, a business loan can provide the capital needed to cover these costs.
      • Fixed Costs. Business loans are ideal when you have predictable, one-time expenses. The fixed repayment schedule makes managing your budget and cash flow more manageable.
      • Long-Term Investment. If you’re investing in something that will generate returns over a long period, such as infrastructure or significant renovations, a business loan’s longer terms and potentially lower interest rates can be beneficial.
    • When Should You Get a Business Line of Credit?

      A business line of credit is better suited for managing ongoing, variable expenses and providing flexibility. Here are situations where a line of credit might be the best fit:

      • Cash Flow Management. If your business experiences seasonal fluctuations or unpredictable cash flow, a line of credit can help you cover expenses during lean periods and repay when revenue increases.
      • Unexpected Expenses. For surprise costs, like emergency repairs or last-minute opportunities, a line of credit offers quick access to funds without needing a new loan application.
      • Short-Term Needs. When you need to finance short-term projects, such as inventory purchases or temporary operational costs, a line of credit allows you to borrow what you need and repay quickly.
      • A line of credit provides ongoing access to capital, allowing you to borrow and repay funds as needed without committing to a large loan.

    Where to Get Financing for Your Business

    There are several sources where you can get the funds you need. Research thoroughly, compare lenders, rates, and terms, and don’t hesitate to reach out to different lenders to discuss your business goals and find the perfect fit.

    Here are some of the options you might want to consider:

    • Traditional Banks and Credit Unions

      These are traditional financial institutions that offer a variety of business loans and lines of credit options. However, they typically require a strong credit history, a solid business plan, and collateral, especially for larger loans.

    • Small Business Administration (SBA)

      The SBA is a government agency that provides various loan programs specifically designed for small businesses. These loans are popular among small business owners because they offer more favorable terms, such as longer repayment periods, lower interest rates, and higher loan amounts.

    • Online Lenders

      The rise of online lending platforms has made it easier and faster to access business financing. These online lenders often cater to startups and small businesses, offering different business loan options with quicker turnaround times.

    • Microlenders

      Microlenders are non-profit organizations that specialize in providing startups and entrepreneurs with small business loans. These loans are typically smaller in amount and focus on helping businesses in underserved communities.

    Other Types of Financing You Can Consider

    If a line of credit or a business loan doesn’t seem like the right fit for your needs, there are several other loans available for your business:

    Equipment financing is specifically designed to purchase business equipment. The equipment itself serves as collateral, making it easier to qualify for this type of loan. An equipment loan is ideal if you need to buy machinery, vehicles, or other large equipment without using up your working capital.

    The Bottom Line

    Choosing between a business line of credit and a loan depends on your specific business needs and financial situation. A line of credit offers flexibility, allowing you to borrow as needed and pay interest only on the amount you use. This option is ideal for managing cash flow, covering unexpected expenses, and financing short-term projects.

    In contrast, a business loan provides a lump sum of money with fixed repayment terms, making it suitable for large, planned investments and long-term projects. It offers predictable payments and is best for significant, one-time expenses like purchasing equipment or expanding your business.

    To make the right decision, consider the purpose of the funds, the amount you need, your repayment capability, and your business's financial stability. Understanding these key differences will help you choose the financing option that best aligns with your business goals, ensuring you have the resources necessary to support your growth and success.

    About the Author

    Ezra Neiel Cabrera has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a major in Entrepreneurial Marketing. Over the last 3 years, she has been writing business-centric articles to help small business owners grow and expand. Ezra mainly writes for SMB Compass, but you can find some of her work in All Business, Small Biz Daily, LaunchHouse, Marketing2Business, and Clutch, among others. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in bed eating cookies and binge-watching Netflix.