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Small business owner Leah Sherrill is desperate for an SBA loan.
Her preschool and childcare center in Midland, Texas plunged from over 100 kids to around 45 as a result of the coronavirus slowdown. That’s forced her to make difficult decisions like cutting staff hours and laying off two employees. She says her business needs a lifeline, in the form of the forgivable small business loans that is part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill. But the program’s rollout has been messy and confusing, and businesses are losing precious days as they try to navigate the process. Fortune spoke to Sherrill and other small business owners currently going through the loan application process to learn about what they’re doing to increase their odds of getting paid sooner rather than later.
Make multiple loan applications
For Sherrill, her biggest a-ha was not to put all her eggs in one basket. She has applications in at five different banks for the loans. She’s not the only one. Several small business owners told Fortune they’ve applied for the loans at multiple banks in hopes of speeding up approval and getting the funds sooner. Once approved, Sherrill says she’d cancel the other applications. “We’re losing money. We don’t know how much longer we can hold on … This PPP loan could be game changer for us,” she says.
When applications for the Paycheck Protection Program loans opened on Friday, many banks were still figuring out the nuances of the loans and weren’t ready for the rush of applications. That delay caused business owners like Sherrill to turn to banks they’ve never patronized before in an attempt to speed up getting their chunk of the $349 billion set aside for the loans, which can forgiven if used for things like payroll and rent.
One banking industry source told Fortune they don’t have a problem with business owners applying at multiple banks for PPP loans, and it isn’t any different than a customer shopping around for a loan in normal times. But not everyone was as supportive.
“It is really unfair for the banks. I would discourage people from doing that,” said Frank Sorrentino, CEO of ConnectOne Bank based in New Jersey. It could end up bogging down the whole application process, he says. “They could impact other people. Just like with the toilet paper [run], don’t take more than you need.”
But some desperate small business owners, who have businesses like hotels and restaurants that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus slowdown, are willing to go to great lengths to speed up getting the funds. Including dumping their long-time trusted banks for credit unions or banks that can get them the money fastest.
“Last week was one of the most turbulent and chaotic weeks in my career. There were so many rumors on how the program was going to be set and what paperwork was needed” said Matthew Roger, a certified public accountant who owns his firm in New Orleans. He has more than 50 small business clients who were scrambling to figure out what documents and information they needed to apply.
Roger, who also applied for the Paycheck Protection Program loan for his own firm, advises that when submitting applications that small business owners make sure they are correctly calculating their average monthly payroll cost. That average payroll cost includes things like salaries and bonuses, but also retirement benefits, parental leave and health care benefits. This average monthly payroll cost is multiplied by 2.5 to determine how much the business can borrow (topping out at $10 million).
But it’s easy for employers to incorrectly calculate their average monthly cost—given the calculation’s nuances. For example, the portion of employee salary in excess of $100,000 is excluded from the payroll calculation. If small businesses incorrectly calculates average payroll, banks could ask them to resubmit their paperwork, thus delaying the funds, says Charlie Epstein, a financial advisor and author of Paychecks for Life. And if businesses leave out costs from their average payroll figures, it means they’d get a smaller loan than would otherwise be possible.
Get your lender’s credit department on the phone
Small business owners and bankers told Fortune it’s helpful to speak with someone from the bank before applying.
If at all possible, “make sure you speak with the credit officer of your bank—that is the person who must approve the PPP loan. Get on the phone with them and walk through your calculations,” Epstein said. He recommends borrowers be kind to the credit officer. This person will help small business owners make sure they didn’t make an application mistake—which would slow down funds—and is the person who submits the loan through the bank portal and gets an approval code.
And after that? Small business owners like Sherrill then just have to cross their fingers and wait—hopefully not too much longer.
More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:
—What small businesses applying to the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program need to know
—The banks and lenders accepting SBA Paycheck Protection Program loan applications
—JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon lays out a future worse than 2008 in his annual letter
—Are we headed for a depression? Economists weigh in
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—VIDEO: 401(k) withdrawal penalties waived for anyone hurt by COVID-19
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