Several recent surveys of small business lending generally point to an easing of credit restrictions. A few exceptions can be found, however.

For instance, the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index jumped modestly between September and November 2012. The Index, which measures the number of new commercial loans and leases to small businesses, now stands at 108.3, up from 94.1 in September. It reached its low of about 65 in mid-2009.

“Certainly there will be bumps in the road, but we feel the overall trend for small business lending is an upward trajectory,” says Terry Robinson, president of The Lending Circle and Sunovis Financial. The Index reflects loan information from more than 200 U.S. lenders.

The most recent Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Survey, from October 2012, also shows a slight easing of credit for small business loan applicants. While nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated that their lending standards for firms with annual sales of less than $50 million had remained unchanged over the previous three months, 9.1 percent said they had eased somewhat. Just 1.5 percent said they had tightened standards somewhat.

A jump also was seen in the December Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index, an analysis of 1,000 loan applications on Biz2Credit.com. The approval rate for small business loan applications at big banks increased 13 percent between November and December 2012. Similarly, the approval rates at small banks also grew, albeit by just .6 percent.

On the Other Hand

Not all surveys show small business lending heading up, however. The Biz2Credit Index also found that the approval rate for small business loan applications at credit unions dropped slightly; this was the seventh monthly drop in a row. Approvals by alternative lenders also dipped modestly. Rohit Arora, Biz2Credit’s co-founder and CEO, attributes the drop among alternative lenders to the greater approval rate of loan applications at bigger banks, which left a relatively greater proportion of low-quality borrowers seeking financing at alternative lenders – and then getting turned down.

Similarly, an index from the International Franchise Association and BoeFly, an online lending marketplace, showed a tiny – 0.11 percent – drop in lending to franchise businesses between September and October 2012. However, year-over-year lending grew by 2.55 percent for the twelve months ending in October 2012, the IFA/BoeFly Franchise Lending Index also reported.

Yet one more survey, this one from the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and Dow Jones Venture Source, focused on the outlook of CEOs and venture capitalists. For the most part, it shows tempered optimism. More than four in five CEOs responding to the survey expect to boost their headcount in 2013, while 51 percent predict an increase in corporate technology spending.

On the other hand, just 49 percent of CEOs expect the economy to improve in 2013, and only 38 percent foresee a strong chance of a federal budget overhaul. “The potential for growth is palpable, with positive forecasts for startup jobs, technology innovation, and global activity,” says NVCA president Mark Heesen. “But to realize this promise we must get on the right track in Washington, and quickly.”