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Women, the Loan Strangers

Female entrepreneurs hold a 50%-or-greater ownership in nearly half of all privately held businesses in the U.S., generate approximately $2.3 trillion in sales, and employ 19.1 million people nationwide, statistics show. Yet a survey completed this month reaffirms that women-owned businesses still aren't making full use of available credit lines and loans that can nourish startups and sustain growth at exisitng outfits.

Almost 41% of the women entrepreneurs responding to a survey conducted by National City Corp. and the Center for Women's Business Research, said they do not have credit services with any bank or financial institution. Of this group, one in three attributes the lack of credit to being a startup business -- easily the most popular response. The other top reasons women business owners say they do not pursue financing are: a belief that they would not qualify (25.9%), and the perception that process of obtaining credit is too difficult or cumbersome (20.4%).

SIMPLE MEASURES. Study after study has found that female business owners are underserved by banks, in part because they do not take advantage of lending programs for which they are likely to qualify -- despite the fact that access to capital is essential to the growth and expansion of small companies.

"The financial-services industry in the U.S. must continue to aggressively assist women entrepreneurs," says Linda Stevenson, vice-president and director of National City's Women Business Owner Initiatives. "The support needs to include enhanced education, increased access to capital, and a concerted effort toward networking and relationship building. We need to work harder at encouraging women business owners to apply for credit, instead of them thinking they are not worthy of it. The credit process is simpler than they realize."

Conducted in April in Ohio, the survey polled women business owners in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. By Karen E. Klein in Los Angeles

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