Terms, conditions, and eligibility

The SBA sets the guidelines that govern the 7(a) loan program. As a lender, these conditions determine which businesses you can lend to and the type of loans you can give.


The specific terms of SBA loans are negotiated between the borrower and the participating lender, subject to the requirements of the SBA. In general, the following provisions apply to all SBA 7(a) loans.

Loan amounts

Most 7(a) loans have a maximum loan amount of $5 million. However, SBA Express loans have a maximum loan amount of $500,000. SBA Export Express loans have a maximum loan amount of $500,000.

The SBA's maximum exposure is $3.75 million ($4.5 million under the International Trade loan). If a business receives an SBA-guaranteed loan for $5 million, the maximum guaranty to the lender will be $3.75 million, or 75 percent. The guaranty percentage varies depending on the loan amount and program type.

Maturity terms

SBA loan programs are generally intended to encourage longer-term small business financing. Loan maturities are based on the ability to repay, the purpose of the loan proceeds, and the useful life of the assets financed.

The maximum maturities for SBA loans are as follows:

  • 25 years for real estate
  • 10 years for equipment
  • 10 years of working capital or inventory loan

The maximum maturity of loans used to finance fixed assets other than real estate will be limited to the economic life of those assets, in no instance to exceed 25 years. The 25-year maximum will generally apply to the acquisition and/or improvements of land and buildings or the refinancing of debt incurred in their acquisition. Where business premises are to be constructed or significantly renovated, the 25-year maximum would be in addition to the time needed to complete construction. (Significant renovation means construction of at least one-third of the current value of the property.)

When loan proceeds will be used for a combination of purposes, the maximum maturity can be a blended maturity based on the use of proceeds or up to the maximum for the asset class comprising the largest percentage of the use of proceeds.

Interest rates

Interest rates are negotiated between the borrower and the lender, but are subject to SBA maximums, which are pegged to the prime rate, the LIBOR rate, or an optional peg rate. Interest rates may be fixed or variable.

The interest rates for variable rate loans are as follows:

Loan amount

Max rate if maturity is less than 7 years

Max rate if maturity is more than 7 years

$25,000 or less

Base rate plus 4.25%

Base rate plus 4.75%

$25,000 to $50,000

Base rate plus 3.25%

Base rate plus 3.75%

$50,000 or more

Base rate plus 2.25%

Base rate plus 2.75%

Variable rate loans may be pegged to the lowest prime rate, the LIBOR Rate, or the SBA optional peg rate. The optional peg rate is a weighted average of rates the federal government pays for loans with maturities similar to the average SBA loan. It is calculated quarterly and published in the Federal Register. The lender and the borrower negotiate the amount of the spread, which will be added to the base rate. An adjustment period is selected which will identify the frequency at which the note rate will change. It must not be more often than monthly and it must be consistent (e.g., monthly, quarterly, semiannually, annually, or any other defined period). The maximum rate for SBA Express and Export Express loans is Prime + 6.5 for loans of $50,000 or less. For loans of over $50,000, it is Prime + 4.5. 

The interest rates for fixed rate loans are as follows:

Loan amount

Prime rate in effect on the first business day of the month, plus

$25,000 or less

6.0% (600 basis points) plus the 2.0% (200 basis points) permitted by 13 CFR 120.215

$25,000 to $50,000

6.0% (600 basis points) plus the 1.0% (100 basis points) permitted by 13 CFR 120.215

$50,000 to $250,000

6.0% (600 basis points)

$250,000 or more 5.0% (500 basis points)

Percentage of guaranty

For most 7(a) loan programs, the SBA can guarantee up to 85 percent of loans of $150,000 or less, and up to 75 percent of loans above $150,000. However, SBA Express loans carry a maximum of 50 percent guaranty and Export Express loans carry a maximum 90 percent guaranty. The Export Working Capital loan program and International Trade loans carry a maximum of 90 percent guaranty, up to a guaranteed amount of $4.5 million.


Gross loan size Fees (See note 1) Notes
Loans of $150,000 or less (See note 2) 2% of guaranteed portion
Lenders is authorized to retain 25% of the fee.
Maturities that exceed 12 months
SBA Express Loans to qualified Veterans & Spouses up to $500,000 Zero (When program is zero subsidy) Maturities that exceed 12 months
$150,001 to $700,000 3% of guaranteed portion Maturities that exceed 12 months
$701,001 to $5,000,000 (See note 3) 3.5% of guaranteed portion up to $1,000,000
PLUS 3.75% of the guaranteed portion over $1,000,000
Maturities that exceed 12 months
Short term loans 0.25% of the guaranteed portion. Maturities of 12 months or less
SBA On-Going Guaranty Fee A percentage of the outstanding balance of the guaranteed portion.  The fee is set at time of approval. Paid by lender and cannot be passed on to the borrower

Note 1: The SBA specifies the amount of certain fees each fiscal year for all loans approved during that year.

Note 2: For example, the guaranty fee on a $100,000 loan with an 85% guaranty would be 2% of $85,000 or $1,700, of which the lender may retain $425.

Note 3: For example, the guaranty fee on a $5,000,000 loan with a 75% guaranty (3.75 million guaranteed portion) would be 3.5% of $1,000,000 ($35,000) plus 3.75% of $2,750,000 ($103,125) with totals $138,125.

Prohibited fees

Processing fees, origination fees, application fees, points, brokerage fees, bonus points, and other fees that could be charged to an SBA loan applicant are prohibited. The only time a commitment fee may be charged is for a loan made under the Export Working Capital loan program.

Prepayment penalties

For loans with a maturity of 15 years or longer, prepayment penalties apply when:

  • The borrower voluntarily prepays 25 percent or more of the outstanding balance of the loan.
  • The prepayment is made within the first three years after the date of the first disbursement of the loan proceeds.

The prepayment fee is as follows:

  • During the first year after disbursement, 5 percent of the amount of the prepayment.
  • During the second year after disbursement, 3 percent of the amount of the prepayment.
  • During the third year after disbursement, 1 percent of the amount of the prepayment.

Eligibility requirements

While the vast majority of businesses are eligible for financial assistance from the SBA, some are not.

Eligible businesses must:

  • Operate for profit
  • Be engaged in, or propose to do business in, the U.S. or its territories
  • Have reasonable owner equity to invest
  • Use alternative financial resources, including personal assets, before seeking financial assistance

Special considerations

Special considerations apply to some types of businesses and individuals.

Franchises are eligible, except in situations where a franchisor retains power to control operations to such an extent as to be tantamount to an employment contract. The franchisee must have the right to profit from efforts commensurate with ownership.

Recreational facilities and clubs are eligible provided: (a) the facilities are open to the general public, or (b) in membership-only situations, membership is not selectively denied to any particular group of individuals, and the number of memberships is not restricted either as a whole or by establishing maximum limits for particular groups.

Farms and agricultural businesses are eligible; however, these applicants should first explore the Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs, particularly if the applicant has a prior or existing relationship with FSA.

Fishing vessels are eligible. However, those seeking funds for the construction or reconditioning of vessels with a cargo capacity of five tons or more must first request financing from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a part of the U.S. Commerce Department.

Medical facilities such as hospitals, clinics, emergency outpatient facilities, and medical and dental laboratories are eligible. Convalescent and nursing homes are eligible, provided they are licensed by the appropriate government agency and services rendered go beyond those of room and board.

An Eligible Passive Company (EPC) is a small entity that does not engage in regular and continuous business activity. An EPC must use loan proceeds to acquire or lease, and/or improve or renovate real or personal property that it leases to one or more Operating Companies for conducting the Operating Company's business. The EPC must comply with the conditions set forth in 13 CFR Sec 120.111.

Change of ownership. Loans for this purpose are eligible provided the business benefits from the change. In most cases, this benefit should be seen in promoting the sound development of the business or, perhaps, in preserving its existence. Loans cannot be made when proceeds would enable a borrower to purchase: (a) part of a business in which it has no present interest or (b) part of an interest of a present and continuing owner. Loans to effect a change of ownership among members of the same family are discouraged.

Legal aliens are eligible. However, consideration is given to the type of status possessed (e.g., resident, lawful temporary resident, etc.) in determining the degree of risk relating to the continuity of the applicant's business. Excessive risk may be offset by full collateralization. The various types of visas may be discussed in more detail with the local SBA office. Use USCIS Form G-85 for verification of citizenship.

Probation or parole. Applications will not be accepted from firms where a principal (any one of those required to submit a personal history statement, SBA Form 912) is currently incarcerated, on parole, or on probation; is a defendant in a criminal proceeding; or whose probation or parole is lifted expressly because it prohibits an SBA loan. This restriction would not necessarily preclude a loan to a business where a principal had responded in the affirmative to any one of the questions on the Statement of Personal History. These judgments are made on a case-by-case evaluation of the nature, frequency, and timing of the offenses. Fingerprint cards (available from the local SBA office) are required any time a question on the form is answered in the affirmative.

Ineligible businesses

Ineligible businesses include those engaged in illegal activities, loan packaging, speculation, multi-sales distribution, gambling, investment or lending, or where the owner is on parole.

Specific types of businesses not eligible include:

Real estate investment firms, when the real property will be held for investment purposes as opposed to loans to otherwise eligible small business concerns for the purpose of occupying the real estate being acquired.

Firms involved in speculative activities that develop profits from fluctuations in price rather than through the normal course of trade, such as wildcatting for oil and dealing in commodities futures, when not part of the regular activities of the business.

Dealers of rare coins and stamps are not eligible.

Firms involved in lending activities, such as banks, finance companies, factors, leasing companies, insurance companies (not agents), and any other firm whose stock in trade is money.

Pyramid sales plans, where a participant's primary incentive is based on the sales made by an ever-increasing number of participants. Such products as cosmetics, household goods, and other soft goods lend themselves to this type of business.

Firms involved in illegal activities that are against the law in the jurisdiction where the business is located. Included in these activities are the production, servicing, or distribution of otherwise legal products that are to be used in connection with an illegal activity, such as selling drug paraphernalia or operating a motel that permits illegal prostitution.

Gambling activities, including any business whose principal activity is gambling. While this precludes loans to racetracks, casinos, and similar enterprises, the rule does not restrict loans to otherwise eligible businesses, which obtain less than one-third of their annual gross income from either the sale of official state lottery tickets under a state license, or legal gambling activities licensed and supervised by a state authority.

Charitable, religious, or other non-profit or eleemosynary institutions, government-owned corporations, consumer and marketing cooperatives, and churches and organizations promoting religious objectives are not eligible.

Two men shaking hands

SBA lenders finance small businesses

Lenders that work with SBA provide financial assistance to small businesses through government-backed loans.
Last updated May 25, 2023