Fraud Checks and Errors Slow Small-Business Relief Loans

Fraud Checks and Errors Slow Small-Business Relief Loans

In December, Congress approved $284 billion for a new round of lending, including second loans to the hardest-hit businesses. This time, the Small Business Administration was determined to crack down. Instead of approving applications from banks immediately, it held them for a day or two to verify some of the information.

That caused — or exposed — a cascade of problems. Formatting applications in ways that will pass the agency’s automated vetting has been a challenge for some lenders, and many have had to revise their technology systems almost daily to keep up with adjustments to the agency’s system. False red flags, which can require time-consuming human intervention to fix, remain a persistent problem.

Numerated, a technology company that processes loans for more than 100 lenders, still has around 10 percent of its applications snarled in error codes, down from a peak of more than 25 percent, said Dan O’Malley, the company’s chief executive.

The problems can be even more complicated for applicants seeking second loans who flew through the process the first time around despite errors that are being discovered only now.

Nearly 5 percent of the 5.2 million loans made last year had “anomalies,” the agency revealed last month, ranging from minor mistakes like typos to major ones like ineligibility. Even tiny mistakes can spiral into bureaucratic disasters.

In June, Shelly Ross got a $67,500 loan through the program from PayPal for Tales of the Kitty, her San Francisco cat-sitting business. She applied last month for a second loan, but her application sat, stuck in an error queue, for more than a week. Her attempts to reach someone on PayPal’s jammed customer-service phone line went nowhere.

Impatient, Ms. Ross put in applications at three other lenders, but each was rejected or left in limbo. Finally, PayPal got back to her with an explanation: Her loan in June was issued under an incorrect employer identification number. The company fixed the mistake, and Ms. Ross assumed her loan was imminent — until a new problem arose.