Female entrepreneurs are much less likely than four years ago to finance their businesses with plastic, according to a poll by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.

Twenty-three percent of women business owners rely on credit cards, a rate comparable to that of male entrepreneurs. In 1992, 51% of women business owners used credit cards for financing.

"It's incredibly good news," said Sharon Hadary, executive director of the organization. "But we cannot afford to lose the progress that has been made."

The foundation conducted the survey of 800 businesses owned by men and women to compare how male and female entrepreneurs use credit.

Women business owners still say they have problems getting good interest rates, are asked for too much collateral, and feel like they are discriminated against.

Though women business owners are not entirely content, the number who say they have problems with their bank has dropped to 15%, comparable to the figure for male entrepreneurs.

Patricia Anderson, co-owner of a Maryland motivational counseling firm, was unhappy with the collateral required for her bank line of credit until she got a telephone call from Wells Fargo Bank.

"The Wells Fargo line had slightly higher rates, but it was worth it to me because I didn't have to jump through hoops to get it," Ms. Anderson said.

Wells Fargo last year launched a nationwide promotion of its credit lines. The San Francisco-based bank has $4 billion in outstanding small- business loans and plans to have $25 billion in 10 years.

"Doing business remotely means it is cheaper for us," said Lucy Reid, Wells Fargo executive vice president. "We can lend more money to more people with less risk."

Wells Fargo, which developed its own credit-scoring system, initially offered pre-approved lines of credit up to $25,000 and now offers up to $75,000 by mail.

"Wells Fargo is lending at a rate unsurpassed in any other time in our history," Ms. Reid said. "We need to redouble our efforts for women business owners."

About 46% of women entrepreneurs and 49% of men entrepreneurs have bank credit, but women business owners are more likely to have credit limits under $25,000.

"Every bank in America was offering me a personal credit card," said Heidi Pfisterer, who founded a Virginia marketing firm. "But the bank where I had a relationship based on the average daily balance in my account would not give me credit."

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