A growing number of small-business owners say poor economic conditions are making it harder to pay their bills, according to Discover Financial Services.

The Riverwoods, Ill., credit card company reported that its monthly Small Business Watch index dropped to a record low of 67.5 this month. The index was pegged at 100 when it was created in 1986.

The report found that 44% of small-business owners have had cash-flow problems in the past three months, up from 38% who said that last month.

Such problems were worse for businesses that focus on consumers, with 49% reporting cash-flow issues, versus 33% of businesses that sell to other businesses.

A record high of 51% of business owners said they expect to invest less in their companies over the next six months, up from 42% in October.

Sixty-five percent rated the nation's economy as poor, up 1% from October; only 5% said the economy was good or excellent, the lowest rating for this question ever.

They were just as dour about their own companies' outlook: 54% said business conditions are getting worse, compared with 15% who said conditions are improving, another record low.

"Small businesses are continuing to feel pressure in this weakening economy," Ryan Scully, Discover's director of business credit cards, said in a press release Monday. "The number of owners having trouble paying their bills is the highest we've seen since April and more than half of owners are cutting back on their business development plans, which is an all-time high."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.