A General Accounting Office study on interstate banking asked nonprofit loan administrators, officials from the Small Business Administration, former bankers, and others who help small companies obtain credit, whether consolidation was good for small business lending in Arizona, California, and Washington.

According to the December report, the most common response from focus group participants was that "mergers involving large banks tended to make credit less available to small businesses within a local area."

But big banks countered that consolidation allowed them to centralize their lending functions. With more efficient operations, they were able to make more credit available to these smaller companies, they said.

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