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The Credit Gap: Easing the Squeeze on the Smallest Businesses

Among the many casualties of the 2007-2008 financial meltdown were small businesses. As the financial system virtually shut down, millions of small business owners across America found themselves unable to get the credit they desperately needed to run their businesses, let alone expand. As a result, thousands of otherwise flourishing firms were forced into bankruptcy or closure, with thousands of American jobs lost.

While this credit freeze has begun to thaw, one critical group of small businesses—firms with fewer than 50 workers—are still at risk of being left behind. These smallest of small businesses provide as much as 30 percent of all private-sector employment. Yet because of their small size, they are much less likely to benefit from government small business loan programs, and they are less likely to win loans from big commercial banks. For this group, the credit crunch is a serious impediment to their success. Many of these businesses relied on personal assets, such as home equity, for financing. But with the crash in home prices, those resources have evaporated. Instead, many smaller businesses rely almost exclusively on risky and expensive credit cards to finance their firms, if they can get credit at all.

Smaller businesses clearly need more options for getting credit, and credit unions, which already help many small borrowers finance their self-employment and small business ventures with personal loans, lines of credit, and limited business loans, could be an ideal source of credit for these underserved entrepreneurs. However, credit unions are blocked from offering as much help as they could because of an arbitrary and outdated cap on the amount of small business lending that credit unions can do. Bipartisan proposals to increase this limit—such as the ones offered by Sens. Mark Udall and Susan Collins and Reps. Ed Royce and Carolyn McCarthy—would help credit unions fill the “credit gap” that these smaller businesses face. It would also be a sensible and cost-effective way to jumpstart the job creation our country urgently needs.

Read the entire brief.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Kenneth Sponsler