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Federally Mandated Credit Union Lending Cap Could Stifle Small Business Loans

cash investmentSmall businesses often face a lot of obstacles when they want to borrow money. The average bank simply doesn’t take many risks in this post-recession economy.

For a few decades, they would give money to just about anyone with a decent business idea. Now, they turn entrepreneurs away even when they have a history of success.

Luckily for small businesses and the overall economy, credit unions have stepped up to offer more lending opportunities. A federally mandated cap, however, could stifle credit unions’ ability to lend money to small businesses.

The Credit Union Lending Cap

Credit unions enjoy certain advantages as non-profit organizations. They get a ton of tax exemptions, for instance, that make it easier for them to offer their members lower-rate loans. That advantage, however, comes with federal mandates that control how they use their money.

Currently, a credit union can only lend businesses up to 12.25 percent of its total assets. Legislation making the rounds in the Senate could increase that cap to 27.5 percent. For the time being, though, credit unions have to assume that they are stuck with the lower cap.

For-profit banks don’t have a similar regulation. They can lend businesses as much as they want. The fact of the matter, though, is that they haven’t. Many banks acted irresponsibly before the recession, and now they’ve swung to the other extreme by denying lending opportunities to even qualified businesses.

Try getting a bank to loan your small business money, and you’ll likely find a brick wall that makes growth nearly impossible. Many credit union supporters argue that banks aren’t doing their job, so why not let the credit unions step in by lending more money to businesses?

Reasons to Raise the Credit Union Lending Cap

According to the National Credit Union Administration’s Debbie Matz, raising the credit union lending cap could give small businesses access to about $5 billion. That’s money that successful businesses could use to grow into new areas.

It could even help generate 120,000 jobs in the U.S. That sounds like good news to anyone worried about how the unemployment rate has held back the economy’s recovery.

Lifting the cap from 12.25 percent to 27.5 percent isn’t likely to put credit unions at risk of acting irresponsibly. Even if some of the additional loans defaulted, credit unions could still operate. There is very little risk that a credit union would go out of business because of this change.

Raising the cap also wouldn’t have a negative impact on many banks. Applying for a loan through a credit union means joining the organization. They usually want to know a lot about the business owner, as well as the business’s likely success.

This is not an easy process. It requires commitment, and plenty of effort. Not that it’s exactly easy to apply for a bank loan, but banks are currently more likely to just say no, instead of delving deeper to decide whether an applicant can use the money wisely.

At this point in the economy’s recovery, small businesses need access to money so they can create jobs. Since credit unions are more willing to give them access to this money, they should have the chance to do so in a responsible way.



Matt Thompson has written for numerous online and print publications. He has spent time as an editor for a media research company that supplies marketing materials to some of the country's most influential corporations.