If the local economy is depressed and you're struggling to meet your loan payments, take heart. A little-known accounting standard called FASB 15 may be just the ticket for you and your beleaguered banker.

Under FASB 15, banks are allowed to renegotiate loans substantially and still keep them on their books. The only significant restriction is that the total payments to the bank must cover the amount of the principal. Within this limit, however, a banker is free to make whatever deal seems to be in the best interests of the bank. In theory, at least, interest can even be renegotiated down to zero.

FASB 15, which dates back to the 1970s, comes from the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the high court of the accounting profession; it allows banks to restructure problem loans within the borrower's ability to repay. Many bankers aren't aware of FASB 15, so you may have to bring it to your loan officer's attention. If your bank has a lot of slow-paying loans because of local economic conditions, FASB 15 just might solve your banker's problem as well as yours. But don't expect to get anywhere if your company's troubles have to do with, say, declining markets or poor management.