Debt vs. Equity Financing: What's Best for Your SMB? - (2022)

  • Debt and equity financing are two very different ways of financing your business.
  • Debt involves borrowing money directly, whereas equity means selling a stake in your company in the hopes of securing financial backing.
  • Both have pros and cons, and many businesses choose to use a combination of the two financing solutions.
  • This article is for small business owners who are trying to decide if debt or equity financing is right for them.

Unless you have an existing empire of wealth to build on, chances are good that you’ll need some sort of financing in order to start a business. There are many financing options for small businesses, including bank loans,alternative loans,factoring services,crowdfundingandventure capital.

With this selection, it can be difficult to determine which option is right for you and your business. The first thing to know is that there are two broad categories of financing available to businesses: debt and equity. Figuring out which avenue is right for your business can be confusing, and each option has its own pros and cons. [Read our picks for the best loans for small businesses.]

Here’s an introduction to both debt and equity financing, what they mean, and important things to know before making your decision.[Learn about otheralternative financing methods for startupsin our guide.]

What is debt financing?

Many of us are familiar with loans, whether we’ve borrowed money for a mortgage or college tuition. Debt financing a business is much the same. The borrower accepts funds from an outside source and promises to repay the principal plus interest, which represents the “cost” of the money you initially borrowed.

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Borrowers will then make monthly payments toward both interest and principal and put up some assets for collateral as reassurance to the lender. Collateral can include inventory, real estate, accounts receivable, insurance policies, or equipment, which will be used as repayment in the event the borrower defaults on the loan.

Editor’s note: Considering a small business loan? Use the questionnaire below to get information from a variety of vendors for free:

Types of debt financing

The following types of debt financing are the most common:

  • Traditional bank loans. While often difficult to obtain, these loans generally have more favorable interest rates than loans from alternative lenders.
  • SBA loans. Thefederal Small Business Administration is a popular choice for business owners. The SBA offers loans through banking partners with lower interest rates and longer terms, but there are stricter requirements for approval.
  • Merchant cash advances. This form of debt financing is a loan from an alternative lender that is repaid from a portion of your credit and debit card sales. Note that merchant cash advances have notoriously high annual percentage rates (APRs).
  • Lines of credit. Business lines of credit provide you a lump sum of money, but you only draw on that money when you need some of it. You only pay interest on what you use, and you’re unlikely to encounter the collateral requirements of other debt financing types.
  • Business credit cards. Business credit cards work just like your personal credit cards, but they may have features that serve businesses better – such as spending rewards that business credit lines lack.

Pros and cons of debt financing

Like all types of financing, debt financing has both pros and cons. Here are some of the pros:

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  • Clear and finite terms. With debt financing, you’ll know exactly what you owe, when you owe it and how long you have to repay your loan. Your payment amounts will not fluctuate month to month.
  • No lender involvement in company operations. Even though debt financers will become intimately familiar with your business operations during your approval process, they’ll have no control over your day-to-day operations.
  • Tax-deductible interest payments. When it comes time to pay taxes, you can deduct debt financing interest payments from your taxable income to save money.

These are some downsides of debt financing:

  • Repayment and interest fees. These costs can be steep.
  • Quick start of repayments. You’ll typically begin making payments the first month after the loan has been funded, which can be challenging for a startup because the business doesn’t have firm financial footing yet.
  • Potential for personal financial losses. Debt financing comes with the potential for personal financial loss if it becomes impossible for your business to repay the loan. Whether you are risking your personal credit score, personal property or previous investments in your business, it can be devastating to default on a loan and may result in bankruptcy.

[Read Related: Startup Costs: How Much Cash Will You Need?]

What is equity financing?

Equity financing means selling a stake in your company to investors who hope to share in the future profits of your business. There are several ways to obtain equity financing, such as through a deal with a venture capitalist orequity crowdfunding. Business owners who go this route won’t have to repay in regular installments or deal with steep interest rates. Instead, investors will be partial owners who are entitled to a portion of company profits, perhaps even a voting stake in company decisions depending on the terms of the sale.

Types of equity financing

These are some common types of equity financing:

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  • Angel investors. An angel investor is a wealthy individual who gives a business a large cash infusion. The angel investor gets equity – a share in the company – or convertible debt for their money.
  • Venture capitalists. A venture capitalist is an entity, whether a group or an individual, that invests money into companies, usually high-risk startups. In most cases, the startup’s growth potential offsets the investor’s risk. In the long run, the venture capitalist may look to buy the company or, if it’s public, a substantial portion of its shares.
  • Equity crowdfunding. Equity crowdfunding is when you sell small shares of the company to numerous investors via crowdfunding platforms. These campaigns usually require immense marketing efforts and a great deal of groundwork to hit the goal and get funding.Title III of the JOBS Act lays out the specifics of equity crowdfunding.

[Read our related guide on bootstrapping vs equity funding.]

Angel investorsand venture capitalists are often highly experienced, discerning investors who won’t throw money at just any project. To convince an angel or VC to invest, entrepreneurs need apro formawith solid financials, some semblance of a working product or service, and a qualified management team. Angels and VCs can be difficult to contact if they’re not already in your network, butincubator and accelerator programsoften coach startups on how to streamline their operations and get in front of investors, and they may have internal networks to draw from.

“It’s true that equity often doesn’t require any interest payments like in the case of debt,” said Andy Panko, owner and financial planner atTenon Financial. “[But] the ‘cost’ of equity is typically higher than the cost of debt. Equity holders will still want to get compensated somehow, [which] generally means having to pay dividends and/or ensuring favorable equity price appreciation, which can be difficult to achieve.”

Debt vs. Equity Financing: What's Best for Your SMB? - (1)Key takeaway: Equity financing is when you receive funding in exchange for shares in your business. Angel investors, venture capitalists and crowdfunding are common types of equity financing.

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Pros and cons of equity financing

Similar to debt financing, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using equity financing to raise capital. These are some of the positives:

  • Well suited for startups in high-growth industries. Especially in the case of venture capitalists, a business that’s primed for rapid growth is an ideal candidate for equity financing.
  • Rapid scaling. With the amount of capital a company can obtain through equity financing, rapid upscaling is far easier to achieve.
  • No repayment until the company is profitable. Whereas debt financing requires repayment no matter your business situation, angel investors and venture capitalists wait until you make a profit before recouping their investment. If your company fails, you never need to repay your equity financing, whereas debt financing will still require repayment.

These are the main cons of equity financing:

  • Hard to obtain. Unlike debt financing, equity financing is hard to obtain for most businesses. It requires a strong personal network, an attractive business plan and the foundation to back it all up.
  • Investor involvement in company operations. Since your equity financers invest their own money into your company, they get a seat at your table for all operations. If you relinquish more than 50% of your business – whether to separate investors or just one – you will lose your majority stake in the company. That means less control over how your company is run and the risk of removal from a management position if the other shareholders decide to change leadership.

How to choose between debt and equity financing

Ultimately, the decision between debt and equity financing depends on the type of business you have and whether the advantages outweigh the risks. Do some research on the norms in your industry and what your competitors are doing. Investigate several financial products to see what suits your needs. If you are considering selling equity, do so in a manner that is legal and allows you to retain control over your company.

Many companies use a mix of both types of financing, in which case you can use a formula called theweighted average cost of capital, or WACC, to compare capital structures. The WACC multiplies the percentage costs of debt and equity under a given proposed financing plan by the weight equal to the proportion of total capital represented by each capital type.

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Max Freedman, Adam C. Uzialko and Elizabeth Peterson contributed to the writing and research in this article.


Which is best debt or equity financing? ›

Is Debt Financing or Equity Financing Riskier? It depends. Debt financing can be riskier if you are not profitable as there will be loan pressure from your lenders. However, equity financing can be risky if your investors expect you to turn a healthy profit, which they often do.

Which is better equity or debt financing Why? ›

In general, taking on debt financing is almost always a better move than giving away equity in your business. By giving away equity, you are giving up some—possibly all—control of your company. You're also complicating future decision-making by involving investors.

Why debt financing is the best? ›

One advantage of debt financing is that it allows a business to leverage a small amount of money into a much larger sum, enabling more rapid growth than might otherwise be possible. Another advantage is that the payments on the debt are generally tax-deductible.

Which is the better source of long term financing debt or equity? ›

In general, equity is less risky than long-term debt. More equity tends to produce more favorable accounting ratios that other investors and potential lenders look upon favorably. However, equity comes with a host of opportunity costs, particularly because businesses can expand more rapidly with debt financing.

Which is riskier debt or equity? ›

The main distinguishing factor between equity vs debt funds is risk e.g. equity has a higher risk profile compared to debt. Investors should understand that risk and return are directly related, in other words, you have to take more risk to get higher returns.

Which is cheaper equity or debt? ›

The Cost of Equity is generally higher than the Cost of Debt since equity investors take on more risk when purchasing a company's stock as opposed to a company's bond.

What are the two benefits of debt financing? ›

The amount you pay in interest is tax deductible, effectively reducing your net obligation. Easier planning. You know well in advance exactly how much principal and interest you will pay back each month. This makes it easier to budget and make financial plans.

Which source of finance is best? ›

Best Common Sources of Financing Your Business or Startup are:
  • Personal Investment or Personal Savings.
  • Venture Capital.
  • Business Angels.
  • Assistant of Government.
  • Commercial Bank Loans and Overdraft.
  • Financial Bootstrapping.
  • Buyouts.

How much debt is OK for a small business? ›

Your small business DTI ratio should be below 50 percent if you want to be considered for a loan. This means that less than half of your profits are being used to repay debt. To maximize your chances of loan acceptance, aim for a DTI ratio of 36 percent or less—the lower the better.

Is debt or equity financing safer? ›

Debt is generally a safer way to invest in a company, but there is less opportunity for a large return. A debt investment involves the investor loaning the company money with a loan agreement.

Why do people prefer equity financing? ›

Less burden.

With equity financing, there is no loan to repay. The business doesn't have to make a monthly loan payment which can be particularly important if the business doesn't initially generate a profit. This in turn, gives you the freedom to channel more money into your growing business.

What is the purpose of debt and equity financing? ›

Debt financing means you're borrowing money from an outside source and promising to pay it back with interest by a set date in the future. Equity financing means someone is putting money or assets into the business in exchange for some percentage of ownership. Each has its pros and cons depending on your needs.

What are the advantages of debt finance over equity finance? ›

Advantages of debt financing

Maintaining ownership – unlike equity financing, your business retains equity which means you continue to have complete control over your business. As the business owner, you do not have to answer to investors.

What is the best source of finance for a small business? ›

Bank Loans

Most banks offer a selection of finance options for businesses looking to start-up. It's always a good idea to start by speaking to the bank that you have a personal account with to understand what they can offer you, what the interest rate and repayment term will be.

What is the safest source of financing? ›

For example, certificates of deposit (CDs), money market accounts, municipal bonds and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are among the safest types of investments. Certificates of deposit involve giving money to a bank that then returns it with interest after a certain period of time.

What types of financing do small entrepreneurs typically use? ›

Small businesses typically use debt or equity financing — or a combination of the two. Debt financing involves borrowing money from a third party, which you then repay, with interest. Equity financing, on the other hand, means you receive money from an investor in exchange for partial ownership of your company.

What is an advantage of using debt finance to help a business grow? ›

What are the advantages of debt financing? The major advantages of debt financing are control, tax and predictability. One advantage of debt finance is that the debt is temporary.

What is the advantage of debt market? ›

Investments in debt securities typically involve less risk than equity investments and offer a lower potential return on investment. Debt investments by nature fluctuate less in price than stocks. Even if a company is liquidated, bondholders are the first to be paid.

Is equity financing a good idea? ›

Key Takeaways. A home equity loan allows you to borrow a lump sum of money against your home's equity and pay it back over time with fixed monthly payments. A home equity loan is a good idea when used to increase your home's value. A home equity loan is a bad idea when used to spend frivolously.

What is debt financing and equity financing with examples? ›

The primary difference between Debt and Equity Financing is that debt financing is when the company raises the capital by selling the debt instruments to the investors. In contrast, equity financing is when the company raises capital by selling its shares to the public.

Is debt financing good for small business? ›

Debt financing

It may be a good option as long as you plan to have sufficient cash flow to pay back the principal and interest. The major advantage of debt financing over equity is that you retain full ownership of your business. Plus, interest payments are deductible business expenses, and you'll build your credit.

Is debt financing good for startups? ›

Startups benefit in several ways: Venture debt reduces the average cost of the capital to fund operations when a company is scaling quickly or burning cash. It also provides flexibility, since venture debt can be used as a cash cushion against operational glitches, hiccups in fundraising and unforeseen capital needs.

Why would a company issue debt instead of equity? ›

Since Debt is almost always cheaper than Equity, Debt is almost always the answer. Debt is cheaper than Equity because interest paid on Debt is tax-deductible, and lenders' expected returns are lower than those of equity investors (shareholders).

What is importance of debt? ›

Companies often use debt when constructing their capital structure because it has certain advantages compared to equity financing. In general, using debt helps keep profits within a company and helps secure tax savings. There are ongoing financial liabilities to be managed, however, which may impact your cash flow.

What are the risks of debt financing? ›

The Cons of Debt Financing
  • Paying Back the Debt. Making payments to a bank or other lender can be stress-free if you have ample revenue flowing into your business. ...
  • High Interest Rates. ...
  • The Effect on Your Credit Rating. ...
  • Cash Flow Difficulties.


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