Are you in debt? If you’re like most Americans, the answer is a resounding yes. According to recent Federal Reserve statistics, the average American household has about $182,000 in mortgage debt, $50,000 in student loan debt, over $29,000 in auto loans and nearly $17,000 in credit card debt.
But should you let debt hold you back from starting your own business?
More than half (52 percent) of millennials have student loan debt, according to an EIG study, and 43 percent believe it limits their career options. If you manage your new business wisely, however, there’s no reason debt should put a damper on your entrepreneurial dreams.
Key questions about personal debt
How much debt do you have, and what kind of debt is it? There’s a difference between a $180,000, 30-year mortgage and $180,000 worth of student loans. There’s also a difference between carrying a credit card balance at 16.73 percent APR (the current average) and mortgage debt at 3.5 percent interest.
If your debt is manageable, making payments on time can actually make it easier for your startup to access capital by improving your personal credit rating. But if your debt-to-income ratio (your monthly debt payments divided by your monthly gross income) is too high, your loan options will be limited. A debt-to-income ratio of 35 percent or less is good; over 50 percent spells trouble, according to Bankrate.com.
Financing your business when you're already in debt
If your current debt makes getting a business loan unrealistic, you still have plenty of options:
- Reduce your monthly debt load. Refinance or consolidate outstanding loans to lower interest rates and reduce monthly payments. If you’re racking up interest on your credit card balances, find a low or zero balance transfer offer.
- Start a low-cost business. A service business using equipment you already own (like your laptop) is ideal. If you do need equipment, consider leasing, equipment loans, or buying used equipment. Working from home will save you money, too.
- Be frugal. If you’re a recent college graduate with student loan debt, now is the time to live in your parents’ basement—0r childhood bedroom. If you're not willing to live with your parents, forgo spending on a social life, or subsist on ramen, you may not be ready to be an entrepreneur.
- Is your heart set on a product-based business? Try a crowdfunding website like Kickstarter to solicit donations from consumers who believe in your product idea. Essentially, they give you the money to make your product by purchasing it in advance.
- Tap into friends and family. Will friends and family invest in your business in return for a share of ownership, or lend you startup capital? If you do accept a loan from a loved one, be sure to draw up loan documents and treat the loan seriously.
- Start a part-time business. If you need income from your job to handle your debt load, look for a business you can launch part-time, working at nights or on weekends. Some entrepreneurs get part-time jobs to pay the bills and devote the rest of their time to their startups.
Rules to live by
Once your business is off the ground, getting a business credit card for necessary purchases is a good idea. Just be sure to keep the balance manageable and make payments on time to build your business’s credit rating.
Make your personal debt payments on time, too. As a startup business owner, your personal credit rating affects that of your fledgling business. Since your business doesn’t have a track record yet, lenders use your personal credit rating as an indicator of your company’s creditworthiness.
As your business begins generating income, resist the temptation to use it to pay down personal debt. Instead, put the profit back into building your business. The more you bootstrap your business growth, the faster your business will become profitable—and the sooner you can pay off all your debt.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide materials for informational purposes only, and is not responsible for, and does not guarantee or endorse any of the third-party products or services mentioned. All third-party logos and company names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners and are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.
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