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Small Business Financing May Suffer From Obama's Proposed Budget and Political Wrangling

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2012-02-19-MikeRozmanheadshot21812.jpg Lenders are concerned that President Barack Obama's proposed 2013 budget and the political scuffling in Congress may leave the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture with inadequate loan-guarantee authority to satisfy the needs of small-businesses owners. If that happens, and "guarantee coffers are low, the borrower needs to worry if their loan will be approved before the program runs out of money," says Mike Rozman, co-president and chief strategy officer of BoeFly.com. The New York City-based company matches borrowers with lenders online. Of further concern, he notes that "there is still limited conventional financing for start-ups."

Before the financial meltdown and the Great Recession, start-ups were able to get financing when the applicant had related experience, invested approximately 20-percent equity into the venture and pledged collateral. That has changed drastically and fledgling entrepreneurs are left with few, if any alternatives. For more mature companies, however, "we've seen an increase in conventional lending over the past six months for existing profitable businesses seeking to expand or refinance debt," Rozman says.

Kraig Kramers, a management consultant and consummate entrepreneur who turned around such Fortune 500 Companies as Snapper-brand lawn mowers, has advice for surviving economic turmoil and a possible tightening of credit. "Stay close to lenders and prospective investors long before you need them," Moreover he says, "You must have prior happy relationships with those who will provide the cash timely when you really need it."

He also coaches business owners to drill down "into cash management with tools you can introduce into your business to accelerate incoming cash." Additionally, "Delegate these tools to those managers and employees who can do the best with them."

Borrowing an idea from "a Fortune 500 company," he says, "Look at a detailed balance sheet, yes, to the penny." As a result, "we found a half-million-dollar stock certificate that had been forgotten." But the technique is not just for large corporations. Kramers also found "recapturable deposits in several smaller businesses this way."

Equally as important, cleaning up your financial statements, footnoting the most important line items and highlighting key financial ratios, prepares you for making a loan application. Furthermore, include an extensive discussion telling the loan officer and her committee how you arrived at the forecast for the next 12-month's proforma.

Rozman adds that if customers get the cold shoulder from their exiting bank, the borrowers will need to be "aggressively seeking alternatives." BoeFly's 1,500 participating lenders pay subscription fees in order to view applications from entrepreneurs seeking financing. In addition to conventional loans, some of the lenders make loans that are partially guaranteed by SBA and USDA and may consider start-ups -- especially for franchises.

SBA's 7(a) loans are suitable to finance real estate, equipment, machinery, working capital, and to purchase an existing business. The agency's 504 program is for fixed assets and most suitable to build, expand or purchase real estate. More recently, SBA initiated a temporary 504 program to "rescue" borrowers who have existing loans with balloon balances coming due and find that take-out lenders are scarce.

The basic 504 program requires job creation or retention and does not include working capital. But the temporary refinancing program waives the job-creating requirement. And it also allows some working capital for projected operating expenses.

USDA's Business and Industry Loan Program is similar to SBA's 7(a) but the businesses must be in rural locations. Sometimes, sparsely populated locations on the fringe of urban areas are approved. Unlike SBA's loan limits of $5 million for 7(a) and approximately $10 million for 504, USDA's B&I program tops out at $25 million under certain circumstances. And the loans may go up to $40 million for rural cooperative organizations that "process value-added agricultural commodities," according to USDA's web site.

Small-business owners are holding their collective breaths as the Obama Administration's proposed budget wends its way through the politically-charged Congress. It is as much the chief executive's opening salvo, as it is his wish list. But if the budget that survives includes large reductions of SBA and USDA guaranteed loans, you need to be prepared.

To test the water, talk to your bank's loan officer about your chances of getting financing. It is better to see if your loan officer tap dances and stutters now than before crunch time. And if you don't get a positive reply, start looking for other funding alternatives.

Jerry Chautin is a volunteer SCORE business counselor, business columnist and SBA's 2006 national "Journalist of the Year" award winner. He is a former entrepreneur, commercial mortgage banker, commercial real estate dealmaker and business lender. You can follow him at www.Twitter.com/JerryChautin

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