Small Business Loan Approval Rates Plummet in March 2020

According to the Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index, the approval percentage for small business loan applications at big banks ($10 billion+ in assets) plummeted to just 15.4% from a post-recession high of 28.3% in February 2020.

“This is a stunning fall that was not entirely unexpected,” said Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora, who oversees the monthly research. “Until just a few weeks ago, the economy was very strong, and big banks were lending at unprecedented frequency. Now, obviously, things have changed.”

The approval rate at small banks dropped dramatically, falling from 50.3% in February to 38.9% in March. “Smaller banks have been a good source of business financing for a long time. While they are no longer approving more than they decline, business owners are reaching out to them because they are likely to provide funding through SBA loans,” Arora said.

“As the economic crisis related to coronavirus continues, I believe smaller banks will lead the charge in helping companies get back on their feet,” he added. “We have already seen that since community banks made such a strong showing on the first day of the CARES Act PPP lending program, while some big banks weren’t ready and have already reached their self-imposed lending limit.”

Institutional lenders’ approval percentages plummeted from 66.5% in February to 41.2% in March. “Institutional lenders carved out significant strength in the small business lending marketplace over the past few years, but they are not immune to this market shock,” Arora said.

Small business loan approval rates among alternative lenders fell from 55.9% in February to just 30.4% in March. “Alternative lenders offer quick cash, so they will play a role in providing money to struggling companies,” Arora said. “But those who can wait for government-backed loans will do so, because the interest rate under the PPP lending program is so low at 1%. Honestly, rates cannot go much lower than that, and some of the loans will be forgiven if businesses retain their workforces at pre-coronavirus levels.”

The approval percentage rate for credit unions dropped from what was already a record low of 39.6% in February to 23.2% in March. “Credit unions had challenges in the business lending marketplace before the coronavirus came along,” said Arora. “With the speed that is required to pump some life into businesses right now, credit unions won’t be in the forefront of lenders. The credit unions that have improved their digital capabilities or partnered with FinTech firms are well ahead of competitors – especially now.”

With business closures and layoffs due to coronavirus rattling the economy, numerous sectors in the economy have been shaken, including restaurants, hotels, airlines, and other travel-related services. A remarkable 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment during the week that ended March 28, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Further, according to the Jobs Report issued on Friday, April 3, 2020, significant declines also occurred in health care and social assistance, professional and business services, retail trade, and construction.

 Implementation of the CARES Act PPP program passed by Congress and signed by President Trump was initially rocky. On the first day of the program, some of the biggest banks, such as Wells Fargo, were not ready to begin offering PPP loans. Further, although thousands of applications were filed and approved, money was not in the hands of business owners.

Even willing lenders, such as community banks that process SBA loans, found it difficult to get cash to struggling businesses.

“Government agencies aren’t accustomed to moving at breakneck speed,” Arora said. “The problem is that up to 75% of small businesses could go under if they don’t receive an injection of cash within the next 60 days.”Further complicating the issue was the enormous amount of PPP information that small business owners tried to understand and process.

Websites, such as and, have sprung up to offer information about SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and other types of funding for businesses in need of working capital during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biz2Credit introduced Biz2X Accelerate SBA, which enables banks and other financial institutions to efficiently respond to the influx of loan requests from companies seeking to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of the historic CARES Act stimulus package.

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