Posts Tagged ‘America’s Recovery Capital Loan Program’

If You Are Gasping for Air, This May Not Help

Monday, March 23rd, 2009
Gasping for Air

Gasping for Air

The Small Business Administration continues to work on guidelines for its forthcoming emergency credit facility, tentatively named “America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) Loan Program”.  The legislation enabling this program requires the SBA to create a new “business stabilization” program to back loans of up to $35,000 to small businesses “experiencing immediate financial hardship”. The proceeds of these loans are to make up to six months of interest and principal payments on a “qualifying small business loans”. This program was conceived as a stopgap measure to assist small businesses struggling to service existing debt. Congress allocated $255 million in the stimulus to fund the ARC program, paying for the program’s loan guarantees and interest subsidies, thereby levering up the amount available to lend. As the SBA is still developing the ARC loan guidelines, it does not yet know when the funds will be available.  While this may appear to be welcome news to small businesses that have thus far not benefited from the government bailouts, hold your applause. There are several issues to consider:

  • Defining “viable businesses” to mitigate moral hazard risk. For the first time in its history, the SBA will offer issuing banks a 100% guarantee on ARC loans that they extend to small business owners. If the business owner defaults, the SBA will repay the bank for the full value of the loan. The SBA will also fully subsidize the interest on the loans, making them effectively free of cost to the small business borrower. No payments on the loans will be due for a year and businesses will have up to five years to repay the loans. However, the full guarantee of the taxpayer to the SBA program raises the moral hazard risk: the risk that banks will lend to borrowers that are not creditworthy because the government will pay the loan losses. This is particularly troubling, as the SBA has already reported soaring default rates on its traditional loan programs. To mitigate this risk, the SBA stipulates that ARC loans are to be extended only to “viable” small businesses, which it defines as those that have “demonstrated an earnings history and a proven record for success that may just need a little extra help to get through a short-term downturn”. (Shouldn’t all loans be limited to “viable” businesses? And how did the SBA determine that the current economic downturn will exist only for the “short-term”?)

We dealt with this issue in the aftermath of 9-11 as disaster aid programs were defined as corporate welfare for the Fortune 500 and loans (with personal guarantees) for the small businesses. However, in order to qualify for the subsidized loans, you had to prove that yours was a “viable” small business. My business, which was newly incorporated and had a short history prior to 9-11-01, did not qualify, nor did other start-ups. (Although eight years later, we are still in business, which is not true for certain of the financial services corporations in the Fortune 500 that received 9/11 handouts.) In other words, in order to qualify for the loan, you had to prove that you didn’t need it.

  • Limited qualifications for the use of the loan proceeds. You won’t be able to use the new ARC loans to cover payments on existing SBA-guaranteed debt. The stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, contains a provision written into the bill by Congress that explicitly prevents the use of ARC loans to pay down existing SBA debt incurred before the bill’s passage. CNN quoted a staffer with the House Small Business Committee who explained that the provision was mandated by the Congressional Budget Office to comply with pay-as-you-go restrictions against increasing the federal deficit through new direct-spending legislation. He added “it is one of the most complicated things I’ve heard in a long time”. Businesses with existing SBA-loans can still apply for the new ARC loans, but they cannot use the latter to pay down the former.
  • Rewarding debtors. The House Committee staffer added, “private loans made for any legitimate business purpose — including credit card debts, bank loans and real-estate loans — would be eligible for the program”.  So if you managed your small business prudently and avoided taking on debt of any kind, this program is of no help to you.  If you did take on debt, you should probably be negotiating new terms and forbearance with your creditors, even if you think you won’t need it. Take the breathing room while you can.

And of course, like all government programs, this one is complicated. I would prefer to invest my time in growing my revenues than attempting to decipher the requirements of another government program.