GE Capital Small Business Finance got authority Aug. 1 to make credit decisions on the government-guaranteed loans it originates, making it a preferred lender in 47 markets nationwide.

The lending unit of GE Capital Corp. views its preferred status as a means of rationalizing operations as well as a sign of approval from the Small Business Administration, said Michael Pilot, president of the lender.

"By doing business with 50 different SBA offices, we had to do it 50 different ways," Mr. Pilot said in an interview. "Now we can streamline operations to conform to one set of guidelines."

The GE lending unit is permitted to make SBA loans in more than the 47 districts - a total of 58 in 40 states. The company plans to be active in 80 districts by yearend.

The unit acquired a government lending license when it bought ITT Small Business Finance in March 1995, and it has been aggressively building staff and adding locations since then. So far this year, it has originated $150 million of guaranteed loans and plans to reach $250 million this year.

Gaining preferred-lender status is the latest step toward becoming a major player in SBA lending, Mr. Pilot said.

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