KeyCorp is making it easier for small-business owners to renew or raise the limits on their lines of credit by telephone.

The $73.2 billion-asset banking company said customers with credit lines of less than $50,000 who pay their bills each month would no longer need to fill out applications or undergo a review of their financial statements to raise or renew the lines.

"Entrepreneurs need money quickly and don't have time to come into the bank branch to reapply for a loan," said Sandra Maltby, KeyCorp vice chairman.

The sixth-largest bank lender to small businesses nationwide, KeyCorp had $3.3 billion outstanding in 48,900 loans at midyear 1997, according to Sheshunoff Information Services.

The Cleveland company said it plans to charge a $75 fee for loan renewals or credit extensions and would collect interest on the outstanding balances.

But Ms. Maltby said the primary goal of the new product is to build customer relationships rather than generate fee income or boost loans outstanding.

For example, an entrepreneur seeking to extend his or her credit line by $10,000 could call a toll-free phone number at the bank.

The credit line would go back to its previous limit once the business owner repaid the extended amount.

Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting in New York, said the automatic credit line extensions would appeal to small- business borrowers.

"It's a great marketing approach," he said. "It allows them to appear as if they are really being responsive to their customers' needs."

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