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Commercial Loans


Commercial Debt Ratios
When analyzing the personal budget of a borrower, lenders use two different debt ratios to determine if the borrower can afford his obligations.

Commercial Debt Service Ratio
The most important ratio to understand when making income property loans is the debt service coverage ratio.

Commercial Lending Ratios
Most of real estate lending can be boiled down to the results of three ratios, which are described in this article.

Commercial Loan Checklist
This list will help you identify the types of information a banker will need to make an informed decision about your business.

Commercial Loan to Value Ratios
The loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is probably the most important of the 3 underwriting ratios.

Commercial Property Types
Listed in this article is a partial list of properties that require commercial financing.

Commercial Underwriting Guidelines
Commercial Financing is underwritten on a case by case basis. Every loan application is unique and evaluated on its own merits, but there are a few common criteria lenders look for in commercial loan packages.


Commercial Financing Options
Research credit lines and other financing approaches.

Questions to Ask Yourself
This article poses several questions related to commercial financing.

Ten Myths and Facts about SBA
This article separates commercial lending facts from myths.


Commercial Debt Ratios

When analyzing the personal budget of a borrower, lenders use two different debt ratios to determine if the borrower can afford his obligations. These two debt ratios are:

  1. Top Debt Ratio

  2. Bottom Debt Ratio


The "top" debt ratio is defined as:
Top Debt Ratio = Monthly Housing Expense/Gross Monthly Income


By "monthly housing expense" we mean either the borrower's monthly rent payments, or if he/she owns a home, the total of the following:

  • 1st mortgage payment on home

  • Real estate taxes (annual cost/12)

  • Fire insurance (annual cost/12)

  • Homeowner's association dues (if the home is a condo or townhouse)

  • Second mortgage payment (if any)

  • Third mortgage payment (if any)


You will often hear the term PITI. It refers to (P)rincipal, (I)nterest, (T)axes and (I)nsurance. While PITI is not exactly the same as Monthly Housing Expense because it does not include homeowner's association dues, the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Lenders have learned over the years that a borrower's "top" debt ratio should not exceed 25%. In other words, a person's housing expense should not exceed 1/4 of his income. While lenders will often stretch this number to as high as 28%, traditional lending theory maintains that anyone with a debt ratio in excess of 25% stands a good chance of developing budget problems.

The second ratio that lenders use to determine if a borrower can afford his/her obligations is the "bottom" debt ratio. It is defined as follows: Bottom Debt Ratio = (Total Housing Expense + Debt Payments) / Gross Monthly Income


The only difference between the two ratios is the inclusion in the numerator of "debt payments." Debt payments include the following:

  • Car payments

  • Charge card payments

  • Payments on installment loans, for example - a payment on a washer & dryer that the borrower purchased

  • Payments on personal loans, for example, a signature loan from the borrower's bank.


What is not included in "debt payments" is Utilities such as PG&E, water or telephone and payments on real estate loans. Real estate loans are usually offset first by the net rental income from the property. If the borrower has a net positive cash flow from all his rentals, then the net income is usually added to his "gross monthly income." If the borrower has a net negative cash flow from all of his rental properties, then the amount of the negative cash flow is usually added to the numerator of the "bottom" debt ratio as if it were a monthly debt obligation, like a car payment.

Traditional lending theory maintains that a borrower's "bottom" debt ratio should not exceed 33 1/3%. In other words, the total of the borrower's housing expense and debt obligations should not exceed 1/3 of his income. Lenders often will stretch on this ratio to as high as 36%, and some have even been known to stretch as high as 40% or more. Obviously a loan with a debt ratio of 40% is a far more risky loan than a loan with a debt ratio of 32%.


Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR)

The most important ratio to understand when making income property loans is the debt service coverage ratio. It equals Net Operating Income (NOI) divided by Total Debt Service. To understand the ratio, it is first necessary to understand the numerator and the denominator. Let's take a look at net operating income (NOI) first.

Net operating income is the income from a rental property left over after paying all of the operating expenses:


Gross Scheduled Rent$100,000

Less 5% Vacancy & Collection Loss$5,000


Effective Gross Income:$95,000

Less Operating Expenses

Real Estate Taxes


Repairs & Maintenance



Reserves for Replacement

Total Operating Expenses:$30,000

Net Operating Income (NOI)$65,000


Please note that lenders always insist on some sort of vacancy factor regardless of the actual vacancy rate in an area to cover collection loss. In addition lenders always insist on using a management factor of 3-6% of effective gross income, even if the property is owner-managed. Their logic is that they would have to pay for management if they took back the property. Finally, NOTE THAT WE HAVE NOT INCLUDED LOAN PAYMENTS AS AN OPERATING EXPENSE.

Next let's look at the denominator, Total Debt Service. This includes the principal and interest payments of all loans on the property, not just the first mortgage. NOTE THAT WE HAVE NOT INCLUDED TAXES AND INSURANCE. They were already accounted for above when we arrived at net operating income (NOI).


To calculate the debt service coverage ratio, simply divide the net operating income (NOI) by the mortgage payment(s). For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that there is only one mortgage on the property:

$500,000 First Mortgage
11% Interest, 30 years amortized
Annual Payment (Debt Service) = $57,139


DSCR = Net Operating Income (NOI) = $65,000
Total Debt Service $57,139
DSCR = 1.14


Obviously the higher the DSCR, the more net operating income is available to service the debt. From a lender's viewpoint it should be clear that they want as high a DSCR as possible.


The borrower, on the other hand, wants as large a loan as possible. The larger the loan, the higher the debt service (mortgage payments). If the net operating income stays the same, and the loan size and therefore the debt service increases, then the lower the DSCR will be.


Life insurance companies are very conservative and generally require a 1.25 or 1.35 DSCR. This means that their loan-to-value ratios are low. Savings and loans (S&L's) generally only require a 1.20 DSCR, and sometimes will accept a DSCR as low as 1.10.

A DSCR of 1.0 is called a break even cash flow. That is because the net operating income (NOI) is just enough to cover the mortgage payments (debt service).

A DSCR of less than 1.0 would be a situation where there would actually be a negative cash flow. A DSCR of say .95 would mean that there is only enough net operating income (NOI) to cover 95% of the mortgage payment. This would mean that the borrower would have to come up with cash out of his personal budget every month to keep the project afloat.

Generally lenders frown on a negative cash flow. Some lenders will allow a negative cash flow if the loan-to-value ratio is less than around 65%, the borrower has strong outside income such as an electronic engineer, and the size of the negative is small. Lenders rarely allow negative cash flows on loans over $200,000.


Commercial Lending Ratios


Most of real estate lending can be boiled down to the results of three ratios:


The bulk of the energy spent "processing" a loan is merely an attempt to verify the numbers that go into the numerator and denominator of the above 3 ratios.

The Loan-To-Value Ratio (LTVR) equals the total loan balances (1st mtg 2nd mtg 3rd mtg) divided up the fair market value (as determined by appraisal). Loan-To-Value Ratios seldom exceed 80% because the lender always want some extra protection against default.

The second ratio that lenders use when underwriting a loan is the Debt Ratio. The Debt Ratio compares the amount of bills that the borrower must pay each month to the amount of monthly income he or she earns. More precisely, the Debt Ratio equals the monthly debt obligations divided up the monthly income. Obviously someone whose Debt Ratio is 150% is in trouble. A Debt Ratio of 150% would mean that a borrower's obligations are one and a half times his income. Debt Ratios seldom are allowed to exceed 40% in practice.


The final ratio used in lending is the Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR). The Debt Service Coverage Ratio is a sophisticated ratio only used for large loans on income producing properties. Debt Service Coverage Ratio equals net operating income divided by debt service. Net operating income is the income from a rental property after deducting for real estate taxes, fire insurance, repairs and all other operating expenses; and Debt Service is the mortgage payment on the property. Most lenders insist that this ratio exceed 1.0. A debt service coverage ratio of less than 1.0 would mean that the property did not produce enough net rental income for the owner to make the mortgage payments without supplementing the property from his personal budget.


Commercial Loan Checklist

The following list will help you identify the types of information a banker will need to make an informed decision about your business:

  • Three years income tax and financial statements

  • Year-to-date profit & loss and balance statement

  • Personal finance statements

  • Projected cash flow statements for next 12 months

  • Pro forma for next 12 months / length of loan

  • Federal and state tax information

  • Collateral sheet

  • Well written business plan


Commercial LTV Ratio

The loan-to-value (LTV) ratio is probably the most important of the 3 underwriting ratios. The loan-to-value ratio is defined as:

LTV Ratio = Total Loan Balances (1st mtg+2nd mtg +3rd mtg) / Fair Market Value of the Property

First let's look at the numerator. If the borrower is only applying for a first mortgage and there will be no other loans on the property, then the beginning balance of the new loan requested should be inserted in the numerator.

However, if the borrower is applying for a second mortgage, then the "underwriter" (the person who determines whether or not the loan qualifies) should insert the sum of the first and second mortgages in the numerator. Similarly, if the borrower is applying for a third mortgage, then the underwriter should insert the sum of the first, second, and third mortgages into the numerator.

When the borrower is applying for a second or third mortgage, the loan-to-value ratio is often known as the combined loan-to-value ratio (CLTV ratio).

Now let's look at the denominator. Generally the fair market value of a property is determined by an appraisal. There is one important exception, however. When the proceeds of a mortgage loan are used to buy the same property that is securing the loan, then that mortgage is known as a "purchase money loan." If the appraisal comes in lower than the purchase price in a "purchase money" transaction, then the lender will use the LOWER of the purchase price or appraisal.

Mortgage brokers are often asked by real estate agents and buyers to base their loan on the appraised value rather than the purchase price. Their claim is that they have negotiated a super deal and that the property is worth much more than what they are paying for it. This may be so (although generally untrue), but lenders always base their maximum loan on the lower of purchase price or appraisal. The lender's argument is that an appraisal is really no more than an estimate of fair market value, no matter how competent or conscientious the appraiser may be. The only true indicator of value is the marketplace in which "a willing buyer and a willing seller, each in full knowledge of the salient facts, and neither under undue pressure, agree upon terms." If the property sells for "X," then it is probably only worth "X."


Commercial Property Types

Below is a partial list of properties that require commercial financing.

Multi family

  • Garden Apartments

  • Hi-Rise Apartments

  • Mid-Rise Apartments

  • Low/Mod Income

  • Student Apartments

  • Senior Apartments

  • Underlying Coop



  • Regional Enclosed

  • Strip Center

  • Outlet Mall

  • Free Standing

  • Single Tenant

  • Regional Unenclosed



  • Single Tenant

  • Hi-Rise Tower

  • Mid-Rise Office

  • Office Over Retail


Health Care

  • Congregate Living

  • Nursing Home

  • Rehabilitation

  • Ambulatory Care



  • Heavy Manufacturing

  • Light Manufacturing

  • Warehouse/Distribution

  • Owner Occupied

  • Multi-Tenant

  • Self Storage

  • Special Purpose


Commercial Underwriting Guidelines

Commercial Financing is underwritten on a case by case basis. Every loan application is unique and evaluated on its own merits, but there are a few common criteria lenders look for in commercial loan packages.


Financial Analysis
A key component in making an underwriting evaluation is the debt coverage ratio (DCR). The DCR is defined as the monthly debt compared to the net monthly income of the investment property in question. Using a DCR of 1:1.10, a lender is saying that they are looking for a $1.10 in net income for each $1.00 mortgage payment. Typically, they will determine the DCR ratio based on monthly figures and the monthly mortgage payment compared to the monthly net income. The higher the DCR ratio is the more conservative the lender. Most lenders will never go below a 1:1 ratio (a dollar of debt payment per dollar of income generated). Anything less then a 1:1 ratio will result in a negative cash flow situation raising the risk of the loan for the lender. DCR's are set by property type and what a lender perceives the risk to be. Today, apartment properties are considered to be the least risky category of investment lending. As such, lenders are more inclined to use smaller DCR's when evaluating a loan request. Make sure that you are familiar with a lender's DCR policy prior to spending money on an application. Ask them to give you a preliminary review of the investment property that you want to purchase. Information is free, mistakes are not.

Loan to Value
Unlike residential lending, commercial investment properties are viewed more conservatively. Most lenders will require a minimum of 20% of the purchase price to be paid by the buyer. The remaining 80% can be in the form of a mortgage provided by either a bank or mortgage company. Some commercial mortgage lenders will require more than 20% contribution towards the purchase from the buyer. What a bank/lender will do is subject to their appetite and the quality of the buyer and the property. Loan to value is the percentage calculation of the loan amount divided by purchase price. If you know what a lender's LTV requirements are, you can also calculate the loan amount by multiplying the purchase price by the LTV percentage. Keep in mind that the purchase price must also be supported by an appraisal. In the event that the appraisal shows a value less then the purchase price, the lender will use the lower of the two numbers to determine the loan that will be made.

Credit Worthiness
For businesses less than three years old, personal credit of principals will be evaluated. This may hold true for longer periods of time for tightly held companies. For corporations, business performance and credit ratings will be evaluated with a proven track record.

Property Analysis
Fair Market Value and Fair Market Rent will be analyzed. Special use property may require additional underwriting. Age, appearance, local market, location, and accessibility are some other factors considered.


Commercial Financing Options

Credit Lines
Under a credit line agreement, the lender supplies a business with funds intended to fill temporary shortages in cash that are brought about by timing differences between outlays and collections. This is typically used to finance inventories, receivables, projects, or contract related work.

Short Term Loans
Short term loans are used for seasonal build-ups of inventory and receivables. Generally they are repaid in a lump sum at maturity, made on a secured basis and are for a term of a year of less.

Asset Based Loans
A lender advances funds based on a percentage of your current assets. The loan is used as source of funds for working capital needs. A lender typically takes a security position in the assets owned by the business.


Contract Financing
Funds are advanced to you as work is performed. Payments by the contracting party are generally made directly to the lender.

Factors actually buy your receivables and rely on their own credit and collection expertise. Essentially, your customers become their customers. Factoring is used by firms who are unable to obtain bank financing. The cost of financing is usually higher than other forms of S-T financing.

Term Loans
Term loans are used to finance your permanent working capital, new equipment, buildings, expansion, refinancing, and acquisitions. Commercial banks are the major source of funding. The term of the loan is based on the useful life of the assets being financed or collateralized. Your projected profit and cash flow are two key factors lenders consider when making term loans.

Equipment and Real Estate Loans
Loans are fully secured by the equipment being purchased. Typically, banks loan 60-80% of the value of the equipment and is repaid over the life of the equipment. Lenders make long term loans secured by commercial and industrial real estate. The loan is usually made up to 75% of the value of the real estate to be financed. Repayment terms range from 10 to 20 years. Lenders also make second mortgages on real estate. The amount of the second mortgage is based on the appraised market value and the amount of the first mortgage.

Leasing can be accomplished through a bank, leasing, or finance company. Your business will be subject to the same type of review as when seeking a loan, specifically cash flow of company, value of lease object, and useful life. Lease terms range from 3 to 5 years. At the end of the lease, there are generally 3 options: purchase, renew, and return.

3-15 YR Balloon Loans
Balloon loans offer interest rates that are fixed for a period of years. Typically these loans are pegged to a treasury index. Terms are for 3, 5,7,10, or 15 years. The amortization schedules are generally for 20 or 25 years. When a balloon loan matures at the end of the agreed term, the remaining principle balance outstanding is due at that time. The borrower can pay off the loan by either selling the property or refinancing. Investment property is typically owned for a previously defined period of time. Analyze your investment strategy before securing a balloon. Having to redo a loan is expensive.

Adjustable Rate Loans
An adjustable rate loan will typically fully amortize with no balloon features. These loans may or may not have adjustment caps. The rate is determined by an index plus a margin. The indices used are generally U.S. Treasury bond rates. Rates are adjusted at a certain point in time using either the current rate of the index in question or the average of the index for the prior year. In either event, the index used will correspond to the adjustment term. If the loan is a three year adjustable, then the index used should be the three year treasury index. Some adjustable rate loans are fixed for an initial period of years and then will adjust after that period. For example a 5/1 adjustable is fixed for the first five years and there after will adjust each year. The index used will be the one year treasury rate.

Please note that commercial lending is not standardized as it relates to programs and to guidelines. Banks must meet certain federal standards, but the index, margin, amortization, term and fees are components that are controlled by the investor based on their risk profit analysis. Remember that this mortgage will be the greatest expense your investment property will be responsible for. As such we recommend that you consult your real estate agent and your loan officer to assist in providing you with all the information needed to make a complete and accurate choice.


Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Are you and your business credit worthy?
    Your personal and business credit ratings will be analyzed.

  • What kind of money do you require?
    Short, long, intermediate term money or equity capital.

  • How much money do you need?
    Present exactly what you need and what it is for.

  • Do you have sufficient collateral?
    Your collateral must equal the loan amount at a minimum.

  • What are the lender's rules?
    Ask about loan-to-value and debt coverage ratios.

  • What kinds of limitations will be set by you?
    Know your comfort level with rate, payment, and term.


Ten Myths and Facts about SBA

Myth:  It takes four to six months to get a SBA Loan processed.

Fact:  Completed loan applications from banks average 10 working days.


Myth:  SBA only provides free business counseling to business people with SBA loans.

Fact:  SBA provides free business counseling to all business people.


Myth:  SBA provides no assistance in helping a business get federal contracts from the government.

Fact:  SBA has procurement assistance at Small Business Development Centers across the country.


Myth:  A business person can get cheaper interest rates for business loans from SBA.

Fact:  SBA does not provide lower interest rates for small business people. Interest rates are negotiable with the bank, but are limited to 2.25% above the prime rate in the Wall Street Journal for loans with maturities of less than 7 years, and limited 2.75% with maturities of 7 years or more.


Myth:  Small loans are not available through SBA.

Fact:  SBA provides an incentive to banks to make loans under $50,000 by reducing their guarantee fee by half.


Myth:  SBA has no specialized programs to assist minority business persons.

Fact:  SBA's 8(a) and 7(j) programs provide specialized management and technical assistance to minorities.


Myth:  There are few SBA loan programs.

Fact:  SBA finance programs provide a wide spectrum of opportunities including Guaranteed Loan, Handicapped Assistance, Contract Loan, Veterans Loan, Exported Revolving LOC, and Small Business ($50,000 and less).


Myth:  SBA has no programs to assist veterans.

Fact:  SBA gives veterans priority when their loan application arrives in the office or when they need business counseling to start a small business.


Myth:  SBA has grants to start or expand a small business.

Fact:  SBA has NO grant program to start or expand a small business.


Myth:  Contractors receive no assistance from SBA.

Fact:  SBA's Surety Bond Guarantee Program assists contractors with their Bid Bond, Performance Bond, and Payment Bond.


Commercial Debt Ratios
Debt Service Coverage Ratio (DSCR)
Commercial Lending Ratios
Commercial Loan Checklist
Commercial LTV Ratio
Commercial Property Types
​ Commercial Underwriting Guidelines
Commercial Financing Options
Questions to Ask Yourself
Ten Myths and Facts about SBA
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