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One challenge for this report is that up-to-date and comprehensive information about the universe of small businesses is sparse, with most evidence about financing needs and sources derived from surveys. One relatively new survey, the U.S. Census Bureau's Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE), launched in 2015, shows that the use of credit products exhibits some clear patterns. Among all of the types of financing that small business operators were asked about, owner financing was the most commonly used type, followed by financing from banks and other finance companies. While grants and outside investors provide vital financing for certain small businesses, this type of funding is only given to a very small share of firms.
A credit union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative, owned and controlled by the people who use its services. Credit unions offer many of the same financial services that banks do. Like savings institutions, credit unions historically have not provided a great deal of credit to small businesses. According to the 2003 Survey of Small Business Finances, credit unions provided less than 1 percent of aggregate dollars outstanding to small businesses. However, credit unions have become a more important source of small business loans in recent years. In a 2009 National Federation of Independent Business survey, fewer than 4 percent of firms reported using a credit union as their primary financial institution. By 2010, this figure had increased to just less than 5 percent, and it was near 7 percent by 2011, the last time these data were reported. Similarly, 9.6 percent of households that owned small businesses in the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reported using a credit union as the firm's primary financial institution.
Up-to-date and comprehensive information about the universe of small businesses is sparse, and most evidence about financing needs and sources is derived from surveys, many of which have limited coverage or rely on nonrepresentative samples. In response to the lack of information on small businesses, the Federal Reserve Banks initiated a convenience sample survey of small businesses, which is described in the box "The Small Business Credit Survey." In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau launched the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE) in 2015. The ASE surveys a representative sample of approximately 290,000 firms with paid employees from the universe of private nonagricultural firms. It collects demographic information on up to four individual owners as well as firm-specific information.14
The survey that was fielded in 2015 solicited information on the firm for 2014. The owner-specific questions cover age, sex, educational attainment, citizenship, ethnicity, race, and veteran status. Firm-specific questions cover a variety of topics, including the year the business was established, how it was funded initially and in the current year, worker types, customer types, digital presence, global presence, and business operations.15 There are also questions on firm owners' motivations for starting the firm, aspirations for the firm, financial challenges, and profitability.16 At the writing of this report, only data for 2014 are available.17
With limited data available on small business credit conditions, the 12 Federal Reserve Banks conducted a series of meetings in 2010 to gather information and perspectives on small business access to credit. Following these meetings, several Reserve Banks conducted regional surveys of business owners in their Districts to gather information on the owners' credit market experiences. In 2014, 4 Reserve Banks--Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, and Philadelphia--collaborated on a joint survey. In 2015, 7 Reserve Banks participated in the SBCS. By 2016, all 12 Reserve Banks were participating in the survey.
The SBCS is a convenience sample survey conducted in partnership with business and industry associations, local agencies, and nonprofits. The survey captures the perspectives of business own-ers who operate firms with fewer than 500 employees in the coverage area. The results are weighted to reflect the full population of businesses in the covered states along the dimensions of industry, age, employee size, and geography, but they may not be completely representative of all small businesses.
The 2016 SBCS, which was fielded in the third and fourth quarters of 2016, yielded 10,303 responses from employer firms in 50 states and the District of Columbia.1 Key findings on credit access from the survey highlight the importance of personal finances in the operations of many small businesses and suggest that some small businesses experienced difficulty obtaining sufficient financing. Table A indicates that about one-fifth of firms rely on personal funds as their primary source of funding. The fraction increases to one-fourth for firms with less than $1 million in revenues.2
The ASE collects information on whether the business sought to establish new funding relationships in 2014 by whether such applications were attempted and, if attempted, were fully funded for several types of credit. As with credit received, the survey does not distinguish between business versus personal credit card or loan applications. Nor does it distinguish between banks and other types of finance companies. In addition, it does not collect information on the amount of funding sought. Patterns for each product application are discussed in the following.
Past survey data highlighted the importance of depository institutions to small business credit availability. According to the 2003 Survey of Small Business Finances (SSBF), more than 60 percent of small businesses had outstanding credit lines, loans, or leases.22 Commercial banks provided credit lines, loans, or leases to 41.1 percent of small firms, a proportion that corresponds to about 68 percent of the small firms that obtained a traditional form of credit from any source. In addition, 5.5 percent of small businesses obtained traditional credit from a savings bank or a savings and loan association, and 3.9 percent obtained it from a credit union. In total, depository institutions supplied credit to more than three-fourths of the businesses that reported having outstanding credit.
Commercial banks were, by a wide margin, the most common source of virtually every credit product included in the survey. They supplied more small businesses with lines of credit, mortgage loans, and equipment loans than any other type of provider. They were also the second most common supplier of motor vehicle loans and "other" loans.23 Finance companies were the most important sources of motor vehicle loans and leases, whereas family and friends were the most important sources of other loans.
More-current data suggest the continued importance of commercial banks to small businesses in recent years. According to the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), 73.2 percent of households that owned small businesses indicated that the primary institution for their business was a commercial bank.24 Similarly, in 2011, more than 85 percent of small businesses in the most recent NFIB finance survey reported that their primary financial institution was a commercial bank.25 According to both surveys, nondepository institutions are rarely the firm's primary institution.
Beyond survey data, an important source of information on the small business lending activities of commercial banks and savings institutions is the small business loan data collected by the Federal Reserve and other regulatory agencies on the Consolidated Reports of Condition and Income (Call Reports).26 These data, which have been collected annually since June 1993 and quarterly since March 2010, include information on outstanding small C&I loans and loans secured by nonfarm nonresidential properties.27 The number of loans and amount outstanding are collected for loans with original amounts of $100,000 or less, more than $100,000 but less than $250,000, and more than $250,000 but less than $1 million.28
A credit union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative, owned and controlled by the people who use its services. Credit unions offer many of the same financial services that banks do. Like savings institutions, credit unions historically have not provided a great deal of credit to small businesses. According to the 2003 SSBF, credit unions provided less than 1 percent of aggregate dollars outstanding to small businesses. However, credit unions have become a more important source of small business loans in recent years. In a 2009 NFIB survey, fewer than 4 percent of firms reported using a credit union as their primary financial institution. By 2010, this figure had increased to just less than 5 percent, and it was near 7 percent by 2011, the last time these data were reported. Similarly, 9.6 percent of households that owned small businesses in the 2013 SCF reported using a credit union as the firm's primary financial institution.