Women business owners have more trouble obtaining loans than do their male counterparts because they tend to operate businesses with lower profit margins, according to a report released Wednesday.

Analyzing data from nearly 14,000 loan applicants in the second half of last year, the firm Biz2Credit found that loan approval rates for women-owned small businesses were, on average, 15% to 20% lower than approval rates of male applicants.

Among the reasons for the disparity: women-owned businesses average 15% lower annual revenue than male-owned companies and their expenses, on average, are 21% higher. Credit scores of female applicants were also 40% lower than the scores of prospective male borrowers, according to Biz2Credit, a New York-based company that matches borrowers with lenders.

"Banks look at these figures and thus find women-owned businesses more risky to fund, which accounts for the lower loan approval rates for women," Rohit Arora, Biz2Credit's chief executive, said in a news release.

In a follow-up interview, Arora noted that women are often more involved in retail operations, which generally have higher operating costs and lower profit margins than other types of small businesses.

But the data also showed that even in cases where men and women own firms in the same industry, male firms tend to have higher revenues and lower expenses.

Arora had no concrete explanation for the revenue gap, though he said that men tend to be "more aggressive" about keeping costs down. His analysis also found that, when it comes to obtaining financing, women tend to do less research and therefore may not be finding the best deals.

Biz2Credit examined trends at both bank and nonbank lenders and found that approval rates for female entrepreneurs versus male entrepreneurs were 7% to 8% lower at large banks and 4% to 5% lower at small banks. However, approvals from alternative lenders were 4% to 5% higher for women than for men, the study fund.  

A number of banks, as well as the Small Business Administration, have made lending to women entrepreneurs a priority, and Arora's advice to them is to be flexible.

"Deals have to be structured in such a way that it doesn't have a negative impact on cash flow," he said.

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