MADISON, Wis. (2/9/11)--Small-business loans in the U.S. still are lagging for several reasons behind recent increases in other types of loans to companies and consumers, according to a Tuesday article in The Wall Street Journal. Credit unions continue to step up to fill the gap. The Federal Reserve reported last week that 10% of large U.S. banks said they eased loan terms for small businesses in the past three months, according to the Journal. In third quarter 2010, U.S. banks and saving institutions had $631 billion in outstanding “small” loans to businesses--a 5% reduction from $667 billion as of March 31, said the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. In the third quarter, the number of small-business loans and lines of credit were more than 70% less from their pre-crisis peaks, according to data from about 380 banks, credit-card companies and other lenders, Small Business Financial Exchange and Equifax Inc. told the Journal. Healthy, profitable U.S. banks say they are geared up to increase small-business lending, the Journal said. This is something credit unions have done throughout the recession, when they haven’t hit the MBL lending cap, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) said. CUNA and credit unions are trying to get Congress to increase credit unions’ member business loan (MBL) cap to 27.5% of assets from 12.25%. Doing so would open up more opportunity to offer MBLs, inject $10 billion in loans into the economy and create as many as 100,000 new jobs, with no cost to taxpayers, CUNA says. Small-business optimism increased to 94.1 in January from 92.6 in December, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Survey (Moody’s Economy.com Feb. 8). January’s gain is the fifth increase in the past six months. The improved optimism on the part of small businesses is based on expectations for real sales during the next six months, NFIB said.