Most bankers insist that they would make a lot more small-business loans if not for two key hurdles beyond their control: Many business owners seeking loans are risky credits, and creditworthy borrowers aren't too eager to add debt.

That's not what policy makers want to hear, but economists and even some small-business advocates agree that the caricature of the tight-fisted banker is unfair - or at least an incomplete explanation for sluggish volume.

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