The government said Monday that banks and thrifts extended $170 billion of small-business and farm loans last year, an 8.3% increase from 1996.

In all, 1,896 banks and savings associations made 2.8 million small- business and farm loans last year. By contrast, 2,078 institutions had made 2.6 million small-business and farm loans worth $157 billion in 1996.

Under Community Reinvestment Act revisions that took effect in 1996, banks and thrifts with more than $250 million of assets must collect these data.

About 98% of the 1997 loans were originations; the rest were purchased loans.

The average small-business loan-defined as a commercial loan of less than $1 million-was for $62,000. The average small-farm loan-defined as less than $500,000-was for $53,000.

About 87% of small-business and 86% of small-farm loans were for less than $100,000. They made up 29% and 42%, respectively, of the total dollar amount of small-business and farm loans made last year.

Half the small-business loans and 90% of the farm loans were made to borrowers with less than $1 million of annual revenue. The average small- business loan to these borrowers was for $52,000.

For the second year, the data showed that banks generally do not redline low-income areas for small-business or farm loans. Low-income areas, with 4.9% of the population and 5.6% of the businesses, got 4.6% of the number and 5.4% of the dollar volume of small-business loans originated last year, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council said in an analysis of the data. - Jaret Seiberg

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