Since rolling out its LowDoc program last summer, the Small Business Administration has known it had a hit on its hands.

Now it knows just how much of a success the streamlined program for loans of less than $100,000 has been.

In the first six months of the current fiscal year, 55.5% of all loans approved under the SBA's 7(a) loan program were made using LowDoc, an agency program that permits lenders to submit a one-page application form on loans of less than $100,000.

Of the 15,528 loans made in the six months ended March 31, guarantees were given on $859.1 million, or 18.8% of the total dollars loaned.

Started as a pilot program in late 1993, LowDoc was initially handled entirely by the San Antonio district. By the spring of 1994, the program was becoming popular. In June, the SBA rolled out the program nationally.

Mike Stamler, an SBA spokesman, said the ease of the documentation process has created a willingness among lenders to use the agency's loan programs. "LowDoc has been phenomenally successful in freeing up availability of loans of less than $100,000," he said.

The SBA's statistics show the program is achieving its goal of reaching the smallest borrowers. The average loan size during the first six months of fiscal 1994, which included very few LowDoc loans, amounted to more than $245,000. By contrast, the first half of this fiscal year produced an average loan size of less than $164,000.

For Rodney Martin, director of the San Antonio district, the LowDoc program has been successful in other ways as well. "It not only got our average loan down, but it created a situation in San Antonio where 90% of the banks in this 55-county district are actively participating with the SBA," he said. "It's because we've gone out and promoted this program."

Jackie Randle, technical issues director with the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders in Stillwater, Okla., pointed out the success is not without costs. Loans made under LowDoc carry guarantees of 90%, compared with the 70% to 80% guarantees on other SBA 7(a) loans. Since a greater percentage is guaranteed, the loans require more funding.

Still, Ms. Randle said the organization is pleased with the program's effectiveness. "It clearly shows there are credit and capital needs for small business, and we're glad to see they're looking to the SBA to meet those needs," she said.

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