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Credit Survey Finds Smallest Businesses Struggled More than Larger Firms During Pandemic

The Small Business Credit Survey 2021 Report on Nonemployer Firms, part of a series of reports from a national survey of small businesses conducted by the 12 Federal Reserve Banks, found that businesses with no employees other than the owner reported larger declines in performance than employer firms. In addition, nonemployers more often struggled to access the funding necessary to keep their businesses afloat.

Main findings:

  • More than three-quarters of nonemployer firms reported declining revenues between 2019 and 2020 and often turned to personal funds in response to financial challenges.
  • Nonemployer firms accessed COVID-related assistance at lower rates than employer firms, though 30 percent of nonemployer firm owners received enhanced unemployment benefits.
  • Nonemployer firms that applied for emergency funding were less likely than employer firms to receive the full amount they sought.
  • Nonemployer firms with less than $100,000 in annual revenues faced more challenges and worse outcomes than larger-revenue nonemployers, which often reported conditions similar to those of smaller-revenue employer businesses.

The report released today is based on the Federal Reserve Banks’ 2020 Small Business Credit Survey, an annual survey of small business owners that was fielded in September and October of 2020. It is a deeper look at the same dataset that served as the basis for the Small Business Credit Survey 2021 Report on Employer Firms released February 3, 2021, and the Small Business Credit Survey 2021 Report on Firms Owned by People of Color released April 15, 2021.

About the Small Business Credit Survey (SBCS)

The SBCS collects information about business performance, financing needs and choices and borrowing experiences of firms with fewer than 500 employees. These small businesses include nonemployer firms, or businesses with no employees other than the owner(s). Nonemployer firms represent 81% of all US small businesses.

The 2020 SBCS yielded 4,531 responses from nonemployer firms in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The SBCS series also includes findings from a sample of 9,693 small employer firms, that is, firms with 1-499 full- or part-time employees.

Responses to the SBCS provide insight into the dynamics behind aggregate lending trends and about noteworthy segments of small businesses. The results are weighted to reflect the full population of small businesses in the United States. The SBCS is not a random sample; therefore, results should be analyzed with awareness of potential methodological biases.

The SBCS includes experiences from firms across all 50 states and the District of Columbia through the joint efforts of the Federal Reserve Banks of Cleveland, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, San Francisco and St. Louis.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the US central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of our nation’s monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and to the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations System-wide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and educational activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Media contact

Doug Campbell, doug.campbell@clev.frb.org, 513.455.4479