How to improve your odds of getting a loan

Just as lending has tightened on small businesses, everyday consumers are finding it difficult to get loans as well. The basics -- having good credit, proving you have the income to repay the loan and having money for a down payment -- apply to anyone asking a bank for money. Once you're sure you really need a loan and have a plan for repaying it, here are a few tips to get you started:

-- Before applying, get your credit score from all three credit agencies. Give yourself time to dispute any errors. You can get your scores free from AnnualCreditReport.com. Keep in mind that checking your credit score too often can reduce your score.

-- A credit score of 700 or above will get you a competitive rate, said Bankrate.com's Greg McBride. It's a tougher landscape if your score is below 650.

-- Pay down debt. In the world of lending, the best prepared come out winners. Take the time to reduce your debt before knocking on a banker's door.

-- Cash speaks volumes. If you have the money to place a down payment, you're less likely to default on a loan. Showing lenders you have a stake in the game makes them more willing to work with you.

To improve your chances of getting a small business loan, ask yourself these questions:

-- Do you have a strong business plan that shows specifically what you'll do with the loan?

-- Can you show how you will repay the loan? Projecting where or how you'll make money in the future, and how that will go toward repaying the loan, is important.

-- What other assets do you have? A lender will want to know if you default, there is something else they can fall back on. Also, you'll want to prove you have a history of getting and repaying credit and that your personal and professional finances are in order.