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The emergency loans currently being offered are designed to assist small businesses maintain employees and keep things running amidst the difficulties brought by COVID-19. — Getty Images/Chainarong Prasertthai

This story was updated on 4/1/20 to reflect new information on the Paycheck Protection Program.

The Paycheck Protection Program, one of the largest sections of the CARES Act, sets aside $350 billion in government-backed loans from private banks to help small businesses survive through the coronavirus outbreak. In some cases, these loans can be converted to grants, which means that if you meet certain requirements, you won't need to pay the loan back.

Here are the most important things small businesses need to know about the Paycheck Protection Program.

How does the Paycheck Protection Program work?

The Paycheck Protection Program’s $350 billion in small business loans will be issued by private banks. Currently, the Small Business Administration (SBA) guarantees loans that are given out by a network of more than 800 lenders across the U.S. The Paycheck Protection Program creates a type of emergency loan that can be forgiven when used to maintain payroll through June. The basic purpose of the Paycheck Protection Program is to incentivize small businesses to not lay off workers and/or to rehire laid-off workers that lost jobs due to COVID-19 disruptions.

What businesses are eligible for these loans?

The Paycheck Protection Program offers loans for the following types of businesses experiencing revenue disruption as a result of COVID-19:

  • Small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
  • Select types of businesses with fewer than 1,500 employees.
  • 501(c)(3) non-profits with fewer than 500 workers.
  • Some 501(c)(19) veteran organizations.
  • Self-employed workers, sole proprietors, and freelance or gig economy workers.

Businesses, even without a personal guarantee or collateral, can apply one of these loans as long as they were operational on February 15, 2020, and had paid employees at that time (even if the owner is the only employee). On a final note, the SBA’s 500-employee threshold includes all types of employees: full-time, part-time, and any other status.

What are the terms of these loans?

Loans under the Paycheck Protection Act can be 2.5 times the borrower’s average monthly payroll costs, and they cannot exceed $10 million. The interest rate for Paycheck Protection loans are set at 1%, and loans mature after two years. No personal guarantee or collateral is required. The lenders are expected to defer fees, principal and interest for no less than six months and no more than one year. The SBA notes that all loans will have the same terms regardless of lender or borrower. Loan payments will be deferred for six months

Lenders will also ask you for a good faith certification that:

  • The loan is needed to support ongoing operations;
  • The loan will be used to retain workers, maintain payroll, and pay for mortgage, lease, and utility payments;
  • The borrower does not have a pending application for a similar loan; and
  • The borrower did not get a similar loan between Feb. 15, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020.
Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, explains the Paycheck Protection Loan — National Small Business Town Hall, held on April 3 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Inc.

Small businesses that take out these loans can get some or all of their loans forgiven.

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 Manny Cosme, president and CEO of CFO Services Group, discusses the documentation you will need to convert your PPP loan to a grant. — National Small Business Town Hall by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Inc.

How can I get my loan forgiven?

Small businesses that take out these loans can get some or all of their loans forgiven. Generally speaking, if employers continue paying employees at normal levels during the eight weeks following the origination of the loan, then the amount they spent on payroll costs (excluding costs for any compensation above $100,000 annually), mortgage interest, rent payments and utility payments can be combined and that portion of the loan will be forgiven. Businesses that rehire workers that were laid off prior to the loan origination will not be penalized. If businesses can restore normal payroll in the eight-week period, they should be able to get the loan forgiven, effectively making the loan a grant.

When can I apply for a Payroll Protection Loan?

The Paycheck Protection Program application process will roll out in two phases, one week apart.

  • On April 3, 2020, small businesses and sole proprietorships can begin applying for these loans.
  • On April 10, 2020, independent contractors and self-employed individuals can begin applying. The SBA advises that all businesses should “apply as quickly as you can because there is a funding cap.”

How do I apply?

First, fill out the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program sample application. Businesses can submit their application to any existing SBA-approved private lender or through federally insured depository institutions, federally insured credit unions, and Farm Credit System institutions that are participating. You can find an SBA-approved lender here.

The SBA and local banks around the country are still finalizing the program, so check with your local bank or credit union to see if they are taking part in the program. Banks that are already SBA-approved lenders may be quicker to put the loan program in place. Businesses may want to start by talking to any lender they currently work with first to see if they are taking part in the program as well.

To learn more about how to apply for Payroll Protection loans, read the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Guide to Emergency Coronavirus Loans.

Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce discusses government support for PPP loan funding. — National Town Hall from Inc. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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