Since 1991, Sterling Associates has provided financing, insurance, and documentation services for those in the process of purchasing a boat. They have offices in San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, Michigan, Old Saybrook, Ft. Lauderdale, Annapolis, and Houston, with their main office in Whitinsville, MA.
Sterling Associates is one of the largest marine lenders in the United States. It has facilitated over $4 billion in boat loans throughout its history.
CEO and President of Sterling Associates Tom Smith, has over 35 years of experience in marine lending.
A great deal of its sales force are now veterans of over 20 years with the company; those just short of that have similar length and type of experience outside the company as well. All Sterling reps provide concierge level service with the objective of helping customers with their financing and marine insurance needs for life. It is this sort of relationship that sets Sterling apart from others in the field.
Sterling is an effective, secure, industry-recognized advocate for the customer in securing marine financing. Its staff deals with consumers directly, cultivating an on-going relationship with the consumer both during the financing process and afterward, as well. This marks it in stark contrast to dealing with banks with their revolving-door staffing and general ignorance of the marine business. Further, each bank generally has a rigid formula for loan acceptance.
Sterling represents not one but 16 lenders -- both national and local -- located throughout the United States. It knows what kind of loans each of these lenders is looking for and can match each individual client’s needs with the lenders most likely to give the lowest rate.Longer Terms. Sterling provides lenders with a secure product that has been appraised by professionals. The result of Sterling’s track record with lenders is that they are often willing to provide marine loans for 15 to 20-year terms.
The process starts with a conversation and an application. Sterling takes the information it needs in the initial assessment—things such as income, net worth, and liquidity, sources of verification, and all the other elements needed so that it does not have to come back again and again for additional information.
CEO Smith says, “We interact deeply with the customer on the application, the credit side, analysis, underwriting, and thereby take out the sting that can come with doing financing business with a bank. For the lending institutions, we simplify everything and make the process efficient. Because all relevant data is organized and presented by experienced professionals, the result is often a lower rate than a customer would otherwise be able to achieve. The whole process is also a lot easier for the customer.”
Other Details Handled. Purchasing a large boat can be a process with many steps, and Sterling makes a point of assisting the buyer throughout. Sea trials, the survey process, Coast Guard documentation are just a few examples. Sterling’s reps facilitate each one of these procedures.
Sterling’s reps also organize the closing, and in the process interface with the title company and the clearing of all leans.
Sterling handles transactions from $25,000 and up for both new and used boats.
The average size transaction for Sterling is around $200,000 with a median somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000.
Used Boats. 80% of Sterling’s transactions are for used boats. As long as there is a good survey, and it is a quality vessel, Sterling’s lenders will go back with used boats as far as the early 1980s.
Wood boats are not accepted.
Sterling does not just offer financing on boats -- it offers services in purchasing aircraft (prop planes and small jets), RVs, as well as manufactured housing in a “very niche space in New England.”
Rates naturally fluctuate with the market, the size of the loan, and the nature of the loan application itself, and consumers should visit the Sterling Associate website for current rates --
The lowest rates quoted when we published this report was 3.125%.
A primary reason that many consumers hesitate from using a 3rd party source to organize a boat loan is the fear that there will be an extra commission involved so the rate will end up being higher. Indeed, Sterling can be considered a “middle man.” Boaters are used to boat dealers which typically deal with one bank in bringing a loan to them for a commission.
But Sterling works on a different model. Because it deals with both banks and credit unions that specialize in boat loans, these institutions know that carefully-sourced boat loans are some of the best-preforming paper on the market. Further, working with Sterling Associates means being delivered a lendee that has been vetted, analyzed, and approved—all benefits that allow for them to offer better rates and terms. The result, are rates that are competitive with anything available from most banks.
According to Sterling CEO Tom Smith, his company has a 90% customer retention rate. That speaks for itself.