Explained: How Does Seller Financing Work for a Business Sale?

by Corey Philip //  September 20, 2023

In the world of business acquisitions, opportunities abound for buyers and sellers alike. But what if you don't have the entire purchase price upfront or want to sweeten the deal to attract more potential buyers? This is where seller financing comes into play. Seller financing, also known as owner financing or seller carryback, is a financing arrangement where the business seller provides a loan to the buyer to cover part or all of the purchase price. It's a powerful tool that can benefit both parties in a business sale. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the ins and outs of seller financing, answering questions like "How does seller financing work for a business?" and "What is seller financing for a business?"

Before we jump into this let's first address how much seller financing is realistic?

There's a lot of misinformation out there perpetuated by the gurus making it seem like a high percentage of seller financing is the norm.  It's not.  After all why would the owner of a healthy and established business take the risk of default when they could get cash?

According to the IBBA Market Pulse report of Q4 2022, the average seller financing was 14% in businesses with 1-2 million in revenue and 6% in businesses with  2-5 million in revenue.  

Businesses selling with a high percentage of owner financing is very rare and really only occurs with the business is struggling and fair market valuation cannot calculated due to in stability.

What Is Seller Financing for a Business?

Seller financing is a creative financing method where the business seller takes on the role of the lender, providing the buyer with the funds necessary to complete the purchase. Instead of relying solely on a bank loan or the buyer's available capital, the buyer makes payments directly to the seller over an agreed-upon period.

How It Differs From Traditional Financing

Seller financing differs from traditional financing in several key ways:

1. No Involvement of a Third-Party Lender: Unlike traditional loans from banks or financial institutions, seller financing involves only the buyer and seller. There's no need to meet stringent bank criteria or wait for loan approval.

2. Flexibility in Deal Structure: Seller financing offers greater flexibility in structuring the deal's terms, such as interest rates, repayment schedules, and collateral requirements. This flexibility can make it easier for buyers to secure financing.

3. Potential for Lower Closing Costs: Since there's no third-party lender involved, buyers may avoid some of the closing costs associated with traditional loans, such as origination fees or points.

4. Faster Transaction Times: Seller financing can expedite the business sale process because it eliminates the need for extensive bank paperwork and approval timelines.  If you've ever done an SBA loan, you know just how long the process can take.

5. Risk and Trust: Both parties share the risks and benefits of the deal more directly in seller financing. The seller trusts the buyer's ability to make payments, while the buyer trusts the seller to deliver the business as promised.

How Does Seller Financing Work for a Business?

Seller financing involves a step-by-step process that's agreed upon by both the buyer and seller. Here's a breakdown of how it typically works:

1. Negotiation and Agreement

The process begins with negotiations between the buyer and seller. They discuss the terms of the seller financing arrangement, including the loan amount, interest rate, repayment schedule, and any collateral requirements. The negotiations often involve some back-and-forth until both parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

2. Purchase Agreement

Once the terms are agreed upon, a purchase agreement is drawn up. This document outlines all the terms and conditions of the sale, including the seller financing details. It's crucial to involve legal professionals to ensure the agreement complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

3. Funds Transfer and Ownership Transition

Upon signing the purchase agreement, the buyer typically provides a down payment to the seller. The seller may also transfer ownership of the business at this stage. The seller then holds a promissory note, which serves as evidence of the debt owed by the buyer.

4. Repayment

The buyer begins making regular payments to the seller according to the agreed-upon schedule. These payments typically include both principal and interest, and the terms can vary widely depending on the negotiation.

5. Completion of Sale

Once the buyer has made all the agreed-upon payments, the seller releases any remaining interest in the business, and the transaction is considered complete. The buyer assumes full ownership, and the seller-financed portion of the purchase price is fully satisfied.

Structuring a Seller Financing Deal

One of the key advantages of seller financing is the flexibility it offers in structuring the deal. Sellers and buyers can tailor the financing arrangement to meet their specific needs. Here are some common ways to structure a seller financing deal:

Interest Rates

Seller financing agreements often include interest rates. These rates can be fixed or variable and are typically negotiable between the buyer and seller. The interest rate should reflect the prevailing market rates and the perceived risk of the loan.

Repayment Schedule

The repayment schedule outlines when and how the buyer will make payments to the seller. It includes details such as the frequency of payments (e.g., monthly, quarterly), the number of payments, and the due dates. The schedule should align with the business's cash flow and the buyer's financial capacity.


In some cases, sellers may require collateral to secure the financing. This collateral could include assets of the business being sold or other personal assets of the buyer. Collateral provides the seller with a form of security in case the buyer defaults on payments.

Down Payment

The down payment is the initial lump sum paid by the buyer to the seller at the beginning of the transaction. It's typically a percentage of the total purchase price and serves as a commitment from the buyer.

Balloon Payments

Some seller financing deals include a balloon payment, which is a large, final payment that becomes due at the end of the loan term. This payment can help reduce the buyer's initial financial burden while allowing the seller to receive a significant portion of the purchase price later in the arrangement.

Personal Guarantees

In cases where the buyer operates the business through a legal entity, the seller may require a personal guarantee from the buyer. This means that if the entity defaults on the loan, the buyer is personally responsible for repayment.

Advantages of Seller Financing

Seller financing offers several advantages for both buyers and sellers in a business sale:

One key advantage to both the buyer and seller is that the SBA loves to see a small portion of a seller financing as indicates that the seller genuienly believe in the going success of the business.  For the seller it brings a more competitive buyer market (higher price) and usually brings a faster closing time and more lenders (if financing with SBA). 

For Sellers:

1. Attract More Buyers: Offering seller financing can make the business more appealing to a broader range of buyers who may not qualify for traditional bank loans.

2. Faster Sale: Seller financing can expedite the sale process, as it eliminates the time-consuming loan approval process of traditional financing.

3. Potential Interest Income: Sellers can earn interest income on the financing, which can increase the total return on the sale.

4. Partial Exit: Sellers can choose to finance only a portion of the purchase price, allowing them to maintain a stake in the business.

5. Collateral: If the buyer defaults, the seller may have the option to reclaim the business or assets as collateral.

For Buyers:

1. Reduced Upfront Costs: Buyers may avoid hefty down payments and some closing costs associated with traditional loans.

2. Flexible Terms: Seller financing allows for more flexible terms, making it easier for buyers to structure the deal according to their financial capabilities.

3. Access to Financing: Buyers who might not qualify for traditional loans due to credit or other factors may still secure financing through the seller.

4. Faster Closing: The absence of third-party lenders can lead to quicker closing times.

5. Opportunity for Growth: Buyers can allocate their available capital toward business growth instead of paying a large upfront purchase price.

Disadvantages and Risks

While seller financing offers many benefits, it's essential to be aware of potential drawbacks and risks:

1. Risk of Default: There's a risk that the buyer may default on payments, which can be complicated to address and may result in legal action.

2. Seller's Reliance on Buyer: Sellers may become dependent on the buyer's payments for income, and if the buyer defaults, it can impact the seller's financial stability.

3. Limited Pool of Buyers: Offering seller financing may attract buyers who can't secure traditional loans, potentially limiting the pool of qualified buyers.

4. Collateral Requirements: If collateral is involved, both parties must understand the implications if the buyer defaults.

5. Interest Income Risk: If the seller is relying on interest income, changing market conditions can affect the overall return.

Tips for Buyers: How to Buy a Business with Seller Financing

If you're a buyer considering a business purchase with seller financing, here are some valuable tips to help you navigate the process:

1. Conduct Due Diligence

Thoroughly research the business you're buying. Understand its financial health, market conditions, and growth potential. Consider hiring professionals, such as accountants and business valuation experts, to assist in due diligence.

2. Seek Legal and Financial Advice

It's crucial to consult with attorneys and financial advisors who specialize in business acquisitions. They can help you understand the legal and financial aspects of the seller financing arrangement and ensure that your interests are protected.

3. Negotiate Favorable Terms

Negotiation is key to a successful seller financing deal. Be prepared to discuss and potentially modify the terms to align with your financial capacity and business goals. Consider the interest rate, repayment schedule, and collateral requirements carefully.

4. Prepare a Solid Business Plan

Having a well-thought-out business plan can reassure the seller of your commitment and ability to manage the business successfully. Highlight your strategy for growth and profitability.

5. Understand the Risks

Be aware of the risks involved in seller financing, such as the risk of default and the potential impact on your personal assets if a personal guarantee is required. Consider how you'll mitigate these risks.

Case Studies

Let's explore a couple of case studies to illustrate how seller financing works in real-world scenarios.

Case Study 1: A Family-Owned Restaurant

John, the owner of a family-owned restaurant, decides to retire and sell his business. He finds a buyer, Sarah, who lacks the necessary capital for the full purchase price. They agree to a seller financing arrangement.

  • Purchase Price: $300,000
  • Seller Financing Portion: $200,000 (two-thirds of the purchase price)
  • Interest Rate: 5%
  • Repayment Schedule: Monthly payments over 5 years
  • Collateral: The restaurant's equipment and inventory

Sarah makes a $100,000 down payment and begins monthly payments to John. Over five years, she pays off the seller-financed portion of the purchase price with interest. John successfully transitions into retirement, earning interest income from the financing.

A family owned restaurant like this is a great use case for high percentage of owner financing.  A family owned business may be difficult to sell (re: family in a business is red flag for many buyers) on the market limiting buyers, and in the case of a restaurant there is equipment and fixture that can be used as collaterol.

Case Study 2: A Tech Startup Acquisition

Alex, an entrepreneur, identifies a promising tech startup for acquisition. The company is recently became profitable, tracking $150,000 per year and is growing rapidly. The startup's founder, Lisa, agrees to seller financing to facilitate the deal.

  • Purchase Price: $500,000
  • Seller Financing Portion: $400,000 (80% of the purchase price)
  • Interest Rate: 7%
  • Repayment Schedule: Quarterly payments over 3 years
  • Collateral: None (based on trust and due diligence)

Alex makes a $100,000 down payment and acquires the startup. He then makes quarterly payments to Lisa, gradually paying off the seller-financed portion with interest. Lisa receives both the purchase price and interest income from the financing.

The lack of established profitability will probably minimize the buyer pool down to nearly zero and most buyers would require the founder to work full time in the business.  This option with high seller financing give the founder a true exit to pursue other interests.  

This case would also be good for revenue based financing structure.

Going Forward

Seller financing can be a win-win solution for both buyers and sellers in a business sale. Sellers gain the advantage of attracting more buyers, faster sales, and potential interest income. Buyers benefit from reduced upfront costs, flexible terms, and access to financing that might not be available through traditional lenders.

However, it's essential to approach seller financing with caution, understanding the risks involved and seeking professional advice. When structured and negotiated thoughtfully, seller financing can facilitate successful business transactions and open doors to new opportunities in the world of entrepreneurship.

As you explore the possibilities of seller financing, remember that every deal is unique. The key to a successful transaction is careful planning, negotiation, and a clear understanding of the terms and implications. Whether you're a seller looking to exit your business or a buyer seeking the right opportunity, seller financing could be the financial instrument that paves the way to your business goals.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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