If you worry about finding financing for your business, you’re not alone.
According to the latest Intuit State of Small Business Cash Flow survey, more than 6 in 10 small businesses around the world struggle to generate enough funds to keep their businesses running, with more than 4 in 10 experiencing cash-flow crunches over the past year. In addition to these stats, one-third of small business owners struggle to pay themselves and their workers or to repay their loans. Two-thirds report losing sleep at night over cash-flow anxieties.
One step to solving these problems can be raising your SBSS score. Your FICO SBSS score is a credit score for your business. It includes data that measures the creditworthiness of your business as well as your own personal credit. The SBA, banks, credit unions and alternative lenders consider your SBSS when deciding whether or not to extend you credit. A good rating can impact both your chances of getting a loan or credit line and your ability to obtain a low interest rate, and it can make the difference between finding the financing you need and going out of business.
To gain a better understanding of what your business’s SBSS score is and how to improve it, we’ll walk through how your SBSS is calculated, who uses it, how your SBSS score impacts your SBA credit score and how to maximize your chances of obtaining the financing you need.
What Is a FICO SBSS?
Your FICO LiquidCredit Small Business Scoring Service (SBSS) score is one of several major methods of measuring business creditworthiness. It was created by the FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) analytics company, which is most known for its consumer FICO score. It is used primarily by the SBA, banks, credit unions and other lenders, measuring creditworthiness on a scale from 0 to 300.
FICO’s SBSS is the most important scoring system for business owners to know since it tracks very closely with your personal FICO score, which is considered by most lenders. Other major scoring systems include:
- Experian’s Intelliscore Plus
- Equifax’s line of business credit scores
- Dun & Bradstreet’s PAYDEX
Experian and Equifax’s scoring systems are also used by lenders, while Dun & Bradstreet’s system is used mainly by vendors and suppliers. Each of these systems uses its own scoring scale, which differs from the SBSS scale.
How Is Your FICO SBSS Score Calculated?
Two main categories of information go into calculating your FICO score:
- data about your company’s principal or principals, including personal financial data
- data about your company’s commercial finances, such as financial statements, bank records, records of payments to suppliers and vendors, audited accounts and loan applications
Exactly how much weight FICO gives to each factor is a proprietary secret which has not been publicly disclosed. However, industry insiders have been able to make some accurate estimates.
Business research agency Fit Small Business estimates that in general, a small business owner’s personal credit history contributes as much as 50 to 90 percent to their total SBSS score. This means that your SBSS score is heavily influenced by the same factors which affect your personal FICO score, such as:
- your history of paying your bills on time
- the ratio of your outstanding credit card balances to your account limits (credit utilization rate)
- how long you’ve had your accounts
- what type of accounts you have
- how frequently you’ve applied for credit
Your SBSS score is also affected by factors related to your business finances, such as:
- your history of paying your suppliers and vendors on time
- business credit utilization ratio
- your cash flow
- your business assets
- how many workers you employ
- how long your company has been in business
- risks to your industry
- public records with negative information, such as bankruptcies, liens and judgments
These types of business factors combine with your personal credit information to determine your SBSS score. How much weight each factor contributes may vary by lender.
Who Uses Your Business FICO Score
Your SBSS score may be utilized by a number of different parties:
- The Small Business Administration uses your score to save time pre-screening possible loans, automatically ruling out businesses that do not meet a minimum threshold of 140, which is the highest score you can achieve with no business credit history and a limited time doing business
- Banks, credit unions and other lenders also use your score, but typically set higher minimum thresholds than the SBA, usually around 160, and may use customized versions of the SBSS that give more weight to different factors
- Alternative lenders can also use your score but may set a lower minimum threshold than the SBA
Since your SBSS score may be evaluated in different ways by these different types of financial providers, it’s important to maximize your score if you want to be eligible for all potential sources of financing.
Why Your SBA Loan Credit Score Matters
Your SBSS score directly affects your ability to secure financing from the SBA as well as other lenders:
- An SBA credit score of 140 is a minimum requirement for an SBA loan
- A score of 160 to 180 will generally qualify you for term loans and lines of credit of up to $1 million
- The higher your score, the better your odds of eligibility for all available financing options
No matter what type of financing you’re seeking for your business, maximizing your SBSS score is in your best interests.
How to Improve Your FICO SBSS Score
There are several major strategies you can pursue to boost your SBSS score. First, you can do everything possible to maintain good personal credit. This includes:
- Paying all bills on time
- Maintaining a low credit utilization rate, with 30 percent being considered a maximum by many financial advisors, while 10 to 20 percent or lower is even better
- Keeping accounts open as long as possible
- Diversifying your credit portfolio by taking out and repaying small loans on time, such as secure loans or credit-builder loans
- Applying for credit infrequently
- Following sound cybersecurity practices to avoid identity theft
- Monitoring your credit report to detect suspicious activity and dispute inaccurate items
You can also build your business credit by taking steps such as:
- Keeping your business and personal credit accounts separate
- Paying all suppliers and vendors on time
- Following good accounting practices to avoid cash-flow crunches
- Keeping your business open in good standing as long as possible
- Applying for secured business credit cards or loans
To further optimize your score for a certain loan application, you can research specific credit risk models(5) that FICO has developed for different types of industries and businesses. This type of information can be found on FICO’s website and in their published literature, though it may take some digging to unearth. Knowing this information can give you a better idea of what criteria lenders may use when evaluating your financing application.
Your SBSS is similar to your business FICO score. It is calculated primarily by reviewing your personal credit score, and also by considering your company’s financial data, particularly your business credit history. The SBA uses your SBSS score to pre-screen your eligibility for loans, while banks and other lenders also use it to evaluate your creditworthiness. Your score both dictates your eligibility for credit and your ability to obtain low-interest loans and credit lines.
You can improve your FICO SBSS score by taking steps to improve your personal credit rating, such as keeping low balances and paying bills on time, as well as by working to build your business credit history, through steps such as using a business credit card. Pursuing these strategies can help ensure that credit is available when your business needs it to accelerate your start-up progress, to cover your bills in a cash crunch or to invest in expansion as your business grows.