You've probably never heard of the best banks for small biz: Most are local and have less than $500 million in assets. In the Small Business Administration's latest annual lending survey, Bank of the Sierra in Porterville, Calif., for example, rose from No. 22 in its state last year to No.1. Ratings are based on the proportion of a bank's lending to small business--in both value and number of loans--as well as absolute levels of lending activity, which favor big banks. Overall, the number of loans under $1 million jumped about 25% last year--compared with about 8% in each of the previous two studies--although total dollar value rose only 5%. For the full report and listings by state, visit the SBA Web site at www.sba.gov/advo/lendinginus2.html.

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