03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Shine the Light on American Express as it Puts the Squeeze on Small Business

Perhaps, you've seen the major media campaign sponsored by American Express and NBC Universal promoting the Shine a Light contest where a small business can win $100,000 in grant money and marketing support from American Express. While American Express is spending bundles on marketing their brand, they are putting the squeeze on the small businesses they would like you to believe they want to help. Small businesses need access to credit if they are going to survive and help revive our economy. Yet, American Express is slashing credit to small business owners when they need it the most.

American Express is also spending money on a new web site. is supposed to be a small business community web site where, to the best of my knowledge, you must be an American Express card member to register. I can only imagine how much it cost to develop the web site and to support the content on it, but I do know it costs every small business owner about $300 a year to carry an American Express OPEN business credit card. Guess you could say your card member fee, in part, subsidizes the web site costs? Also ponder this: Why is American Express spending money building and maintaining an expensive small business web site when there are fabulous independent sites on the Internet offering excellent small business resources, community and content for free?

For some time, I've been hearing comments from entrepreneurs who are enraged about American Express's professed commitment to small business when in reality card holders with solid payment histories and long track records with the company are finding their credit lines slashed. For example, David Zahn is a successful serial entrepreneur who says he has a perfect payment history on multiple American Express OPEN accounts, yet all have all been reduced. Zahn is not alone, business owner Dee Yoh noted after 15 years as a cardholder in good standing the reductions in credit lines are not allowing her to build sufficient stock for the upcoming holiday season and as a result it's putting her business at risk!

Consider American Express customer Kevin Johnson, who says he pays his bills on time and therefore was surprised to see his credit limit practically obliterated. What was the explanation from American Express? According to Johnson, the credit card company explained it this way in a letter: " ...other customers who've used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express."

"I was shocked when I read it because I didn't know that companies could assess your credit worthiness based on others around you!" said Johnson.

These are just a few of the stories business owners reported to me in response to a recent journalist query I submitted asking for customer experiences. Many of the respondents asked to remain anonymous because they didn't want their customers to be concerned about the financial stability of their companies. Others worried about repercussions from American Express for speaking honestly.

In fact, I too realize I am putting myself at risk by speaking openly and honestly, but as a small business journalist and a true advocate for small business it is a risk I am willing to take. Some one needs to stand-up for the little guys, and I feel it is my duty to provide a voice for small business. My strong recommendation to American Express is this -- if you truly want to help small businesses, put your money where your mouth is. Show small businesses how much you care by giving them the financial support they need.

As my mother used to say: "Actions speak louder than words." Think about it.