NEW ORLEANS - The quickening pace of change for lenders participating in the Small Business Administration's loan guarantee programs is beginning to get on some people's nerves.
In its most recent shift, the agency announced it would stop guaranteeing debt refinancings after May 12. The move, which is expected to affect about 3,000 loans and cut loan volume by $500 million this year, will allow the agency to guarantee new loans throughout its fiscal year, ending Sept. 30.
Without this action, the SBA estimated, its guarantee authority for this quarter would have expired June 22 and, for the fourth fiscal quarter, Aug. 17.
"It grieves me to announce that, but we felt it was the best option available," SBA Administrator Philip Lader told members of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders at its midyear convention May 4.
While members of the group appeared more concerned about potential problems in the LowDoc program and the cap on loan size imposed this year, the action on guaranteeing debt refinancings clearly put some members in a difficult position.
Catherine Clampitt, SBA production manager and senior vice president at Liberty National Bank, Huntington Beach, Calif., said the announcement caused problems not only because of the short notice, but also because the bank's recent marketing campaign for refinancings went to waste.
"It dramatically affects a market we were targeting," she said. "So now we have to completely stop that effort."
The change is the latest in a series designed to prevent a funding crisis like the one that brought the program to a halt in July 1993. In earlier changes the agency raised fees and introduced new ones in an attempt to stretch its appropriations.
The fee income helped reduce the program's so-called "subsidy rate" to 2.73%. The rate, a sort of loan-loss reserve for the program, considers fees and appropriations as well as costs and loan losses to determine the dollar volume of loans the agency can guarantee.
In February, the Clinton administration said it wanted to reduce the rate to zero and eliminate the need for congressional appropriations.
But the current funding crisis has already grabbed the attention of Congress. Rep. Jan Meyers, R-Kan., chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, introduced a bill May 3 to cut loan guarantees to a maximum of 70% for the Preferred Lender Program and 75% for any other loan.
The bill would also apply fees to the gross amount of a loan instead of just the guaranteed portion.