What is a personal guarantee?

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    Ashlyn Brooks

    Page written by Ashlyn Brooks. Last reviewed on April 17, 2024. Next review due October 1, 2025.

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      A personal guarantee is a legal commitment made by an individual, typically a business owner or executive, to take on personal responsibility for a loan if the business is unable to repay its debt. 

      This means that if the business defaults, the individual is personally liable for satisfying the debt, potentially using their personal assets. Such guarantees are common prerequisites for obtaining business loans, especially for new or financially unstable companies, providing lenders with a layer of security against the risk of non-payment.

      How does a personal guarantee work?

      A personal guarantee integrates an extra layer of security for lenders by binding an individual’s personal assets to the business’s loan obligations. Here’s an in-depth explanation:

      • Risk Mitigation for Lenders: By requiring a personal guarantee, lenders mitigate the risk associated with lending to businesses that might be new or have a less stable financial history.
      • Legal Obligation: Once signed, a personal guarantee becomes a legal obligation. If the business fails to meet its loan repayments, the guarantor must cover the debt from personal resources.
      • Asset Liability: In enforcing a personal guarantee, lenders can target the guarantor’s personal assets, including savings, investments, and property, to recover owed funds.

      Types of personal guarantees

      Personal guarantees vary in terms of the extent of liability and the conditions under which a guarantor might be pursued for repayment. Understanding these differences is important for business owners as they assess their borrowing options.

      Unlimited personal guarantees

      Unlimited personal guarantees place the guarantor in a position of maximum liability. This means:

      • Full Responsibility: The guarantor is liable for the entire amount of the business loan, including any additional fees, legal costs, and accrued interest.
      • Sole Proprietorships and Single Owners: This type of guarantee is often the only option for sole business owners, making them fully responsible for any business debts.

      Limited personal guarantees

      Limited personal guarantees introduce a cap on the guarantor’s liability, which is particularly relevant when multiple owners are involved. Key features include:

      • Proportional Liability: Guarantors are only responsible for a portion of the loan, often corresponding to their ownership stake in the business.
      • Risk Sharing: This type reduces individual risk by distributing the liability among all guarantors according to predetermined percentages.

      Continuing guarantees

      Continuing guarantees extend the scope of a personal guarantee beyond a single loan, covering all current and future debts the business incurs with the lender. Highlights are:

      • Ongoing Liability: The guarantor remains liable for all business debts to the lender, not just the specific loan for which the guarantee was initially given.
      • Future Debts: This type of guarantee means that any future loans or credit lines from the same lender are automatically secured by the original personal guarantee, streamlining the borrowing process but increasing the guarantor’s potential liability.

      What is the difference between a limited and unlimited personal guarantee?

      Unlimited guarantees offer more security to lenders and may result in more favorable loan terms, but they also represent a significant risk to the guarantor’s personal assets. 

      Limited guarantees, while potentially more challenging to negotiate, provide a safeguard by restricting the guarantor’s liability.

      The key difference lies in the level of personal risk and financial exposure the guarantor is willing to accept. These two types of guarantees differ significantly in terms of the extent of liability they impose on the guarantor.

      • Unlimited Personal Guarantees: With an unlimited personal guarantee, the guarantor is responsible for the full amount of the business loan, including any accrued interest, legal fees, and penalties. This type of guarantee exposes the guarantor’s personal assets to the highest level of risk.
      • Limited Personal Guarantees: In contrast, a limited personal guarantee sets a cap on the amount the guarantor is liable for. This cap is often proportional to the guarantor’s stake in the business, limiting their exposure and risk. Limited guarantees are common in businesses with multiple owners, allowing each owner to be responsible only for their share of the debt.

      How common are personal guarantees on business loans?

      Personal guarantees are a widespread requirement for business loans, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that may not have a long credit history or substantial assets to offer as collateral.

      • Prevalence in the Lending Industry: A vast majority of banks, credit unions, and online lenders request personal guarantees for business loans. This practice is not limited to any specific type of lender but is common across the board.
      • Statistical Insight: According to a Small Business Credit Survey conducted by the Federal Reserve, nearly 59 percent of small businesses reported using a personal guarantee to secure their funding. This high percentage shows the general presence of personal guarantees in the business lending landscape.

      Source: 2020 Small Business Credit Survey, Federal Reserve Banks, page 12/37

      The frequency of personal guarantees underscores their role as a critical tool for lenders to mitigate risk. For businesses, especially newer ones or those without established credit profiles, providing a personal guarantee can be a key to unlocking necessary financing.

      Should I sign a personal guarantee?

      Deciding whether to sign a personal guarantee involves careful consideration of the risks and benefits involved. Here are key factors to ponder:

      • Assess the Level of Risk: Understand the full scope of what you’re committing to, especially if you’re considering an unlimited personal guarantee. Evaluate whether the potential growth or benefit to your business justifies the personal financial risk.
      • Consider the Loan Terms and Business Viability: Reflect on the terms of the loan and the viability of your business. Are you confident in your business’s ability to repay the loan based on current and projected financials?
      • Share the Burden: If possible, share the responsibility. In businesses with multiple owners, a limited personal guarantee can distribute the risk among all owners, based on their ownership percentage.
      • Negotiate Terms: As previously mentioned, negotiating the terms of your personal guarantee can significantly mitigate your risk. Look for opportunities to limit your liability or specify conditions under which the guarantee can be reduced or lifted.
      • Seek Professional Advice: Before signing, consult with a financial advisor or legal expert. They can provide insights into the implications of the guarantee and help you navigate the negotiation process.

      What to consider before signing a personal guarantee on a business loan?

      Before committing to a personal guarantee on a business loan, it’s imperative to consider several key factors to protect your financial well-being. This decision should not be taken lightly, as it can have significant implications for your personal financial situation.

      • Financial Stability of Your Business: Evaluate the current financial health and projected future earnings of your business. Are you confident in its ability to repay the loan without defaulting?
      • Your Personal Financial Situation: Consider your personal financial stability and the impact that assuming this liability could have. Are you in a position to repay the loan if the business cannot?
      • Legal and Financial Implications: Understand the legal and financial implications of the guarantee. This includes knowing what assets could be at risk and the potential for legal action if the loan is not repaid.
      • Terms of the Guarantee: Carefully review the terms of the guarantee. Look for clauses that might allow for modifications or the release of the guarantee under certain conditions.
      • Alternatives to Personal Guarantees: Explore alternative financing options that may not require a personal guarantee. This might include loans with different types of collateral or funding from investors.

      Do all business loans require personal guarantees?

      Not all business loans require personal guarantees, but the requirement is common, especially for certain types of loans and lending institutions. The need for a personal guarantee largely depends on the lender’s assessment of risk and the borrowing business’s creditworthiness, age, and financial stability.

      • Type of Loan: Equipment loans or loans with specific collateral (e.g., real estate) may not always require a personal guarantee, as the loan is secured by the asset itself. However, unsecured loans, which lack specific collateral, often do require personal guarantees.
      • Lender Policies: Traditional banks and credit unions might have stricter requirements and more frequently require personal guarantees. Online lenders and alternative financing sources may offer more flexibility but often at higher interest rates.
      • Business Credit and Financial History: Established businesses with strong credit histories and significant assets may be able to negotiate terms that don’t include a personal guarantee. Newer businesses or those with weaker credit profiles are more likely to be asked for a personal guarantee.
      • SBA Loans: Small Business Administration (SBA) loans typically require personal guarantees from any owner with a 20% or greater stake in the business.

      How does a personal guarantee affect my credit?

      Signing a personal guarantee on a business loan can have significant implications for your personal credit, both directly and indirectly.

      • Direct Impact: If the business fails to make timely loan payments, this delinquency can be reported to the credit bureaus under your name, given the personal guarantee. This can negatively impact your personal credit score.
      • Liability on Credit Reports: The guaranteed amount may not always appear as a liability on your personal credit report unless the loan goes into default. However, lenders considering you for personal credit may take into account your potential liability under the guarantee.
      • Debt-to-Income Ratio: Lenders looking at your personal financial situation for other loans (like a mortgage) will consider your potential obligations under the personal guarantee. This can affect your debt-to-income ratio, potentially limiting your ability to secure additional personal credit.
      • Default and Legal Action: In the event of default and subsequent legal action, any judgment against you will severely affect your credit score. Additionally, using personal assets to satisfy the business debt can deplete resources you might otherwise use to maintain personal credit stability.

      Expert tip: Negotiate the terms of your personal guarantee

      When you’re considering a business loan with a personal guarantee requirement, remember that the terms of the guarantee aren’t always set in stone. You have room to negotiate these terms to limit your personal risk. Here are key strategies that can provide considerable advantages:

      • Asset exclusion: Request the exclusion of specific personal assets from the guarantee. This can protect critical assets like your home or retirement savings from being used to cover business debts.
      • Cap the guarantee: Try to negotiate a cap on the amount for which you’re personally liable. Even if you can’t convert an unlimited guarantee into a limited one, setting a maximum dollar amount can provide significant financial protection.
      • Sunset clauses: Seek to include a sunset clause that limits the duration of your personal guarantee. This means the guarantee could expire after a certain period or under specific conditions, reducing your long-term liability.
      • Release of guarantee: If your business demonstrates consistent repayment and financial stability, negotiate terms for the release of the personal guarantee. This could be based on meeting certain financial benchmarks or after a portion of the loan has been repaid.

      Negotiating these terms not only provides you with a safety net but also demonstrates to lenders your seriousness and understanding of financial obligations. Always consult with a financial advisor or attorney to review and negotiate the terms of any personal guarantee to ensure they align with your personal risk tolerance and financial goals.

      How Swoop can help

      Navigating personal guarantees for SMEs can be complex, intertwining personal financial health with business outcomes. Swoop emerges as an ally in this process, offering a platform that connects businesses with tailored financial solutions. By facilitating the exploration of loans requiring personal guarantees, as well as advising on the implications and alternatives, Swoop’s technology and expertise empower owners to make informed financing decisions.

      Leverage Swoop to gain insight into how personal guarantees impact your funding options and to discover strategies for minimising personal risk. Begin by clicking the “Check available loans” tab on Swoop’s platform, and pave the way for your business to thrive financially, with or without personal guarantees.

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      Written by

      Ashlyn Brooks

      Ashlyn is a personal finance writer with experience in business and consumer taxes, retirement, and financial services to name a few. She has been published in USA Today, Kiplinger and Investopedia.

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