Small businesses affected by the departure of an owner or "essential employee" on active military duty can now apply for loans earlier, and ask for more money with fewer collateral requirements, under changes in a Small Business Administration program that took effect Tuesday.

The changes apply to the SBA's Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and were enacted in the Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act in May.

Small businesses can now borrow up to $2 million under the program, up from the old cap of $1.5 million. Any loan of $50,000 or less requires no collateral. Previously, all loans over $5,000 required collateral. Businesses can also apply for the loan on the same day the military service member is called to active duty.

Essential employees include any individuals "(whether or not the owner of the small business) whose managerial or technical skill is critical to the successful daily operation of the business," according to an SBA statement.

The loans are for 30 years, and the interest rate is 4%.

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