The 7(a) Loan Program is the SBA’s primary program to help start-up and existing small businesses obtain financing when they might not be eligible for business loans through normal lending channels. The name comes from section 7(a) of the Small Business Act, which authorizes the SBA to provide business loans to American small businesses. The SBA itself does not make loans, but rather guarantees a portion of loans made and administered by commercial lending institutions.
7(a) loans are the most basic and most commonly used type of loans. They are also the most flexible, since financing can be guaranteed for a variety of general business purposes, including working capital, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, land and building (including purchase, renovation and new construction), leasehold improvements, and debt refinancing (under special conditions). Loan maturity is up to 10 years for working capital and generally up to 25 years for fixed assets.
Most American banks participate in the program, as do some non-bank lenders, which expands the availability of loans. Participating lenders agree to structure loans according to the SBA's requirements, and apply and receive a guaranty from the SBA on a portion of this loan. The SBA does not fully guarantee 7(a) loans—the lender and the SBA share the risk that a borrower will not be able to repay the loan in full. The guaranty is against payment default; it does not cover imprudent decisions by the lender or misrepresentation by the borrower.