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  • Writer's pictureSamson Olabisi

Banks or CDFIs: Choosing the right lending partner for your business.

For small business owners in the United States, securing financing is often a critical step in achieving growth and success. While traditional banks have historically been the go-to source for business loans, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have emerged as a compelling alternative. Understanding the circumstances under which a small business owner should approach a CDFI for a loan rather than a bank can make all the difference in obtaining the right financing solution.

CDFIs: A Brief Overview

Community Development Financial Institutions are specialized financial institutions that are dedicated to providing affordable and responsible financial services to underserved communities. Their mission extends beyond profit-making; they aim to promote economic development and improve the quality of life in mostly low-income areas. CDFIs offer a range of financial products, including loans, investments, and technical assistance, to support small businesses, affordable housing, and community development initiatives.

When to Approach a CDFI

  1. Credit Challenges: Small business owners with less-than-perfect credit histories may find it difficult to secure loans from traditional banks. CDFIs often have more flexible lending criteria and are willing to work with borrowers who might not meet the stringent requirements of larger financial institutions.

  2. Community Impact: If your business aligns with the values and goals of community development, a CDFI could be the right choice. CDFIs prioritize lending to businesses that have a positive impact on underserved communities, such as creating jobs, supporting local economies, and revitalizing neighborhoods.

  3. Startups and Microenterprises: New businesses or microenterprises may struggle to secure financing from banks due to their limited operational history and smaller financing needs. CDFIs are more likely to understand the unique challenges faced by startups and may offer smaller loan amounts that cater to these businesses' needs.

  4. Flexible Collateral Requirements: Traditional banks often require substantial collateral to secure a loan, which can be a significant barrier for many small business owners. CDFIs usually place less emphasis on collateral and instead, consider the overall business plan and potential for community impact.

  5. Personalized Support: CDFIs typically offer a more personalized approach to lending. They often work closely with borrowers to understand their specific needs, providing technical assistance, business training, and mentoring, which can greatly benefit small business owners who require more than just financial capital.

When to Approach a Bank

  1. Established Creditworthiness: If your business has a strong credit history and financial stability, traditional banks may offer lower interest rates and more favorable terms due to their larger resources and established reputation.

  2. High Loan Amounts: Businesses in need of substantial financing may find that banks are better equipped to provide large loans. Banks have access to greater capital reserves, making them a suitable choice for companies with significant financial requirements.

  3. Speed and Efficiency: If your business needs immediate funding and you can meet the bank's requirements, traditional banks might be the faster option. They often have streamlined loan processes that cater to businesses looking for quick capital injection.

  4. Wide Range of Services: Banks can provide comprehensive financial solutions beyond loans, including merchant services, credit lines, and business credit cards. If your business needs a variety of financial products, a bank might be the more convenient choice.

When a small business owner is considering where to seek financing, the choice between a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and a traditional bank should be based on their unique circumstances and priorities. CDFIs can be a lifeline for businesses that value community impact, struggle with credit challenges, or are in the early stages of development. On the other hand, banks are often preferable for established businesses with solid creditworthiness and larger financial needs. In today's dynamic economic landscape, the availability of diverse financing options empowers small business owners to find the right fit for their specific situation. By carefully assessing their needs, goals, and the support each institution can offer, entrepreneurs can make informed decisions that set their businesses on the path to growth and success.

About Overwrite

Overwrite is a firm that provides outsourced underwriting, technical assistance and loan consulting services to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Credit Unions & Community Banks. Our sweet spot is working for small to mid-sized CDFIs with <$50m in assets. Please reach out to inquire about our consulting services here. You can also email us at

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