Expert Advice on Small Business Credit
A banker and an accountant explain what borrowers should be
doing in terms of their existing loans and interest rates, and
discuss future credit availability
by Karen E. Klein
The financial crisis has touched off worries among entrepreneurs about the status of their business loans
and credit lines (BusinessWeek.com, 9/26/08). Will they have trouble rolling over their credit lines?
Will new credit be available for small companies looking to fund operations? Smart Answers columnist
Karen E. Klein posed some basic questions to two experts about this issue: Alex Grinewicz, executive
vice-president for lending at Columbia Bank in Fair Lawn, N.J., and Nick Florio, an accountant and
senior partner at accounting firm Citrin Cooperman in New York City. Edited excerpts of their
How much interest are your small business clients expressing in the credit issue?
Grinewicz: There's been extraordinary interest, not only from our small business clients but from
consumers in general worrying about the banking industry, wondering if their deposits are safe and
asking whether the bank will be around tomorrow. Fortunately, we're very stable and as a community
bank we're not really as affected as many of the larger regional and national banks are.
What's the current outlook for small business credit availability, which has been tight most of this
Grinewicz: Some banks certainly are tightening up their credit standards significantly. As lenders look
at business profitability and assess the ability to repay loans, credit has gotten very expensive of late.
We've been able to maintain a more reasonable cost of our products, but we're looking at things
carefully as well. Because we're a relationship-based lender, we're able to work as closely with
customers as we can.
Florio: There are companies with very good credit that are unable to get new loans or to get out of their
current loans because of the credit crisis. I have clients with FICO scores close to 800 who can't get
conventional 30-year mortgages.
What should small business borrowers be doing in terms of their existing loans and their interest
Florio: I'm telling small business owners to look at their loan documents, see what interest rate their
debt is tied to and consider whether or not refinancing makes sense. There's a lot of confusion over
interest rates right now, particularly about the LIBOR, the London interbank offered rate. There are
different periodic LIBOR rates that are used and the short-term LIBOR rates have spiked recently. It is
still a stable product, but they are adjustable rates and so if you're concerned you should check with your
banker or your financial advisor about whether your interest rate is changing, how that will affect your
payments and what your options are for refinancing, given these tight credit markets.
Grinewicz: Communication is the key. If your payment is going to be substantially larger, talk to your
banker about what payment options are available. Perhaps you can arrange a restructuring of the credit,
agree on different terms or get a changed collateral mix. We're asking our customers to be realistic in
this market to recognize that we're doing what we can.
Some small businesses may be feeling the pinch financially this year. What's your advice for
Grinewicz: Take an honest approach. Again, talk to your banker if there are problems and it's likely that
they'll try to work with you. We are seeing, with the various financial statements coming in from our
borrowers, a significant decline in some revenues and a slide in some companies' profitability. We're
concerned, but if there are problems with our clients, we prefer to know about them sooner rather than
later. It's much worse to prolong a problem or to not discuss it and hope it goes away.
Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.