Banks ease up on loan terms to small businesses

For the first time since 2006, banks have eased lending terms for small businesses, according to the Federal Reserve.

In a quarterly survey of senior loan officers, the Fed found that banks have eased terms for commercial and industrial loans to small firms with at most $50 million in sales.

The survey, released Monday, comes at a critical time for the Obama administration, which has pushed hard for a $30 billion fund to stimulate lending to small businesses. The president first proposed the fund in January, but Congress has yet to approve it. Senate Democratic leaders are planning votes on the measure in September.

The Fed survey indicated that banks overall have loosened restrictions on lending, but said that most of the changes have occurred at the nation's largest banks. Demand for business and consumer loans was unchanged, the Fed said.

The survey was based on responses from 57 domestic banks and 23 U.S. branches of foreign-based banks.