WASHINGTON — The Small Business Administration is reporting an increase in lending after recent changes to its guarantees and fees that were designed to make loans backed by the agency more appealing.

Provisions in the economic stimulus package allowed the SBA to increase the guaranteed percentage of a small-business loan to 90% and waive fees for borrowers. Since the provisions took effect Feb. 17, the SBA said, it has approved 4,256 loans with guarantees worth $800 million.

Officials also said the average weekly loan volume has risen 21.7%, to $146 million, since President Obama's announcement of the guarantee and fee changes March 16.

"We do feel that these initial numbers give us reason to feel like these steps are having a positive effect, which was what was intended," an SBA spokesman said Thursday.

But executives at Edgeware Analytics Inc., a private San Diego firm that connects borrowers to lenders and lenders to investors in the secondary market, said it was too early to tell whether the stimulus provisions were having a significant effect.

"We've seen a spike of new memberships since the [March 16] announcement," said Mike Rozman, the president of Edgeware. "It's still too early to see the deals that have gone through."

Edgeware offers a service that connects potential borrowers with SBA lenders. The number of lenders registering to be listed on the service has risen 500% since the announcement, Rozman said. "I'd say there's been increased activity in looking at deals that would have been perceived as having greater risk — for instance, start-up restaurants."

Russell Omer, a senior vice president at Chicopee Bancorp. Inc., in Massachusetts, said executives there had just begun to get comfortable with the details of the guarantee and fee changes, though they were already considering a loan to a local borrower that wants to use additional capital to fund bids on jobs being created by other parts of the stimulus package.

The guarantee increase "induced us as a bank to look at the risk side of the additional loans to this company," Omer said.

The SBA had been "very helpful" in its efforts to explain the new provisions, he said. "The SBA has a pendulum, depending on the mood of the government, in how helpful they want to be. It's swung way over to try to be as helpful as they can."

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