The U.S. Treasury Department has said that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) should be ready for business owners by Friday. Not so fast, says small-business loan expert Ami Kassar, CEO and founder of MultiFunding, an advisory firm for businesses searching for lenders. ?Kassar is closely following the development of new application and processing systems under the program, which will allocate $350 billion in loans backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

"People are going to be angry starting next week because they can't apply for these things," says Kassar, an columnist who gave a webinar on the PPP's provisions on March 27. The program is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security  (CARES) Act, the federal government's just-passed $2 trillion stimulus package. 

New systems will need to be built quickly, and clarification on application rules is likely to take at least a week, Kassar says.

"The next few weeks will be a mess," he says. "No one is open for business to start processing these new loans today." 

Kassar predicts that the SBA and banks won't be ready for at least three to four weeks.

"The government is saying differently. From their lips to God's ears," he says.

Until then, business owners facing a cash crunch should look to defer loan payments and assemble their payroll documentation.

What's more, lenders are still looking at how much of these loans to put on their balance sheets and will need to interpret guidance, Kassar says.

Meantime, beware of scams and the lure of high-interest-rate short-term loans. "Be careful about whom you work with," Kassar says. Check into any lender's reputation and the term of the loan. There are no authorized lenders yet for PPP, he says.

Keep in mind that things are changing fast. "There's a lot of conflicting information out there," Kassar says.

For example, last week the SBA website said that businesses that had credit available elsewhere would not be eligible for certain new loans, which is no longer the case under the new law.

In another example, Kassar says, last Friday the SBA website offered some loan application documents for borrowers to submit to the agency, but he didn't have confidence that the documents were accurate. 

"Until the site is up and running to administer the program--God knows when that's going to be--we don't think it makes sense to apply," he says.

Moreover, while SBA express loans and lines of credit, which have an accelerated review period, have increased from up to $350,000 to up to $1 million, it isn't yet clear how they will be underwritten. Likewise, it isn't clear what the criteria will be for the SBA's conventional 7(a) loans, including for business owners who are refinancing these loans.

The $350 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program is likely to run out quickly, Kassar predicts. He expects that the federal government will increase the amount with a new round of rules based on lessons learned from the forthcoming program.