Fed Small Business includes small business research and analysis by the 12 Reserve Banks of the Federal Reserve System.
Small businesses play a large role in the American economy. Employing nearly half of private sector workers, small firms create economic opportunity in local communities and help drive innovation in the macro economy. Given this national significance, timely information on small business economic conditions, financing needs, and credit availability is important.
The 12 Reserve Banks of the Federal Reserve System launched the annual Small Business Credit Survey (SBCS) to provide timely insights on small business conditions to policy makers, service providers, and lenders. The survey is a national sample of small businesses, or firms with fewer than 500 employees, aimed at providing insight into firms' financing and debt needs and experiences. Its reports focus attention on growing and changing segments of the small business market, including startups, minority-owned firms, women-owned firms, rural firms, and the self-employed and gig workers.
The SBCS provides insights on financing needs and gaps. The survey tracks a fixed set of questions on business financing needs, credit applications, and credit outcomes over time. The survey also contains special topics modules, which vary on an annual basis. In 2017, special topics focused on hiring experiences and disaster recovery. The survey is fielded annually late in the third quarter and fourth quarter, and reports are issued on a rolling basis beginning late in the first quarter of the following year.
The survey is a national collaboration between the 12 Federal Reserve Banks and a diverse network of more than 400 community and business groups throughout the country. Typical partners include chambers of commerce, small business development centers, incubators, business advisory organizations, and government agencies. These organizations encourage small businesses in their networks to complete the survey.
The SBCS is a convenience sample of small firms in the 50 states and District of Columbia. Since the sample is not selected randomly, the survey may be subject to biases that are not present in randomly selected samples of firms. We control for potential biases by weighting our sample data so that the weighted distribution of firms in the SBCS matches the Census distribution of small firms in the U.S. We collaborate with NORC at the University of Chicago to calculate the weights.
In 2021, the US Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey (ABS) included a one-time special module on small business financing, prompting comparisons of SBCS and ABS findings. The SBCS and the ABS are fundamentally different efforts with distinct designs and objectives. When understood together, the SBCS complements the ABS by providing deeper insights on financing and other special topics. While both surveys collected data in 2021 on small business financing, there are meaningful differences between the data, and the surveys are not directly comparable.
The ABS financing module questions are similar to questions in the SBCS questionnaire, but there are foundational differences in the survey design and the questions used in the two surveys that can reasonably be anticipated to affect responses. Of note, preliminary data from the 2021 ABS financing module show differences between SBCS and ABS figures on application rates. These differences are at least partially attributable to the scope of credit applications captured, the treatment of specific response options, the time periods covered by the two surveys, and respondent recall effects over time. Analysis of SBCS and ABS data will continue as final ABS data become available.