By Don Weiner
It may be true that numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the whole story. When the 2008 fiscal third quarter ended June 30, statewide Small Business Administration-guaranteed lending showed a 25 percent decline from 2007 in both total loans and dollars lent, according to the Arizona District Office.
In fact, District Director Robert Blaney says numbers have been dropping throughout the fiscal year, which is indicative of a slowing economy and business owners holding back.
“I think that we’re feeling the effects like everybody else,” he says. Even active SBA lenders have noticed a slowdown.
“The customers are not expanding as much,” says Dee Burton, an Alliance Bank of Arizona senior vice president dealing with SBA and commercial lending. “The customers are, you know, a little bit leery and they’re not expanding their business. So, yes, that has impacted the number of requests that we get to look at, simply because most of the customers are not in high-growth mode.”
Yet a closer look at the SBA’s third-quarter numbers shows some positive trends. Veteran lending jumped almost 70 percent. Rural lending dollar totals were up 93 percent. And loans for start-ups increased 147 percent.
“When the angels cry, sometimes they also sing,” Blaney says.
The upshot for small-business owners is that if they need money and can meet certain requirements, financial help is available.
“Here at Alliance Bank, we look at these type of slowdowns, if you will, as an opportunity to help people get a loan to expand and grow with them,” Burton says. “We’re definitely still in the lending process.”
Thankfully, business owners have no better friend than the SBA. It provides resources for those starting new businesses or expanding existing ones. And it has programs for businesses in need of capital.
When it comes to the financial side, it’s important to be clear: The SBA is not a lender. Instead, it works with banks, credit unions or other entities that make and administer loans. The SBA backs up loans with guarantees, which can run as high as 75 percent to 85 percent depending on the amount borrowed and the type of loan.
“For us, it’s a critical program,” says Lori Stelling, vice president and SBA lending manager for National Bank of Arizona. “We can serve so many more customers by givingthem a loan with an SBA guarantee, because the loans that we do under SBA we would not be able to do conventionally. And there’s a number of reasons for that. If somebody doesn’t quite meet our conventional cash-flow requirements, under SBA we can give them a longer term than we can conventionally.”
“For lenders, I would say SBA is a critical part of what we do.”
The SBA has several different loan programs.
The most common is the 7(a) loan, which serves a range of business financing needs with a maximum amount of $2 million. Another is the SBAExpress program. It makes smaller loans available, but the SBA only offers a 50 percent guarantee. One of the newest is the Patriot Express Initiative, a program that helps veterans and others in the military community with funding and training. Established businesses in need of long-term financing for major fixed assets can turn to the 504 program.
Not all active SBA lenders participate in all programs. Some specialize in 7(a) loans; others offer SBAExpress loans as their primary product. They also have varying restrictions and minimum loan amounts. Many lenders refuse to offer loans for start-ups. Also, only certain active lenders are approved for certain programs, such as Patriot Express. And some are given special status. Especially active and expert lenders qualify for the Preferred Lenders Program, which equates to a quicker turnaround on SBA loan applications.
Visit the SBA’s Arizona District Web site at www.sba.gov/az to find a completelisting of statewide lenders.
The SBA loan process is not that complicated. Take your proposal to a lender and, according to Blaney, if the lender is unwilling to do a loan without an SBA guarantee, they will deal with the agency’s loan processing center.
“It’s as simple as that,” Blaney says. “You have to fill out a couple of more forms for us. I mean, it is the government, we do have a form or two. But it’s not an arduous process. And it has been severely streamlined over time.”
Before taking that step, however, Arizona small-business owners may want to take advantage of two other SBA programs: SCORE and the Arizona Small Business Development Network. Their experts can assist with business plans and help you understand lender requirements.
John Alig, branch manager and a counselor for the East Valley SCORE chapter in Mesa, says this may mean passing out what a fellow counselor calls “reality cookies.”
“Sometimes that includes telling people things that they donâ€™t want to hear,” Alig says.
He warns that business owners who lack a proper credit rating, collateral and capital do have one thing: a big problem.