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SBA Runs Out of Money for Loan Breaks

Loan sweeteners that offer higher guarantees and lower fees are tapped out. Will Congress extend them for the fifth time?
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Two key U.S. Small Business Administration loan programs have run out of money to support breaks that provided higher guarantees and lower fees – and for the fifth time.

Stimulus funds for the agency's 7(a) and 504 programs are once again tapped out, SBA Administrator Karen Mills said in a statement. The loan adjustments – originally created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009 – allow for higher guarantee levels on SBA 7(a) loans to 90 percent. They also waive borrower fees on most 7(a) and 504 loans. The SBA's signature 7(a) loans help with most small business needs, and the 504 loans are for real estate or major capital assets. The program is intended to make a small company's chances of getting a loan better, and to reduce the cost of capital.

Since Feb. 17, 2009, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act has funnelled $680 million into these programs, supporting more than $27.5 billion in lending to more than 60,000 small businesses nationwide, Mills said. She added: "They have also brought more than 1,300 lenders back to SBA's loan programs, increasing the points of access for small businesses to get the capital they have needed during these tough economic times."

Congress has extended the breaks four times since the stimulus money first ran out in November. On Wednesday, the SBA reactivated its online Recovery Loan Queue, which is exactly what the title says: a waiting list for those who hope Congress will come through with another extension. It is first come, first served, so if you're hoping for loans under the sweetened terms, get in line now. Unless or until Congress acts, the loans will return to their pre-2009 terms: loans under the 7(a) program guaranteed 75 percent of the loan amount, and fees for the 504 program range from .5 percent to 3 percent depending on the loan's size and term.

Members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate are trying to extend the breaks and replenish the funding supply, but the legislation is unlikely to move quickly.

"Nothing gets through Congress easily these days, even bipartisan legislation," Lynn Ozer, executive vice president of government lending at Susquehanna Bank, told CNN Money.

Mills said the SBA plans to lobby Congress. "President Obama has laid out an aggressive agenda for providing small businesses with the tools they need to drive economic growth,' she said. 'A key piece of that agenda is a longer-term extension of these increased guarantees and reduced fees, and we urge Congress to move quickly to continue these critical programs."

The White House has also suggested increasing the maximum 7(a) loan size from $2 million to $5 million and raising the maximum 504 loan size from $2 million to $5 million and $5.5 million for manufacturers.

President Obama this week renewed his push for a small business jobs bill, of which the new loan sizes would be a part. Also in the bill: a $30 billion loan fund to seed small banks with capital to boost their local business lending. (In a report issued Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the measure would cost the government $3.3 billion over the next five years.)

"From the middle of 2007 through the end of 2008, small businesses lost 2.4 million jobs," Obama said at a May 25 event honoring Small Business Owners of the Year. "And because banks shrunk from lending in the midst of the financial crisis, it's been difficult for small business owners to take out the loans they need to open up shop."

The bill would also provide more funding for small loans to businesses in the start-up stage.

Last updated: May 28, 2010

Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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