The American Institute of CPAs has deepened its alliance with the U.S. Small Business Administration, meeting in Washington recently with agency officials to discuss plans for how CPAs can help and advise struggling small business owners.

"We signed this alliance on Nov. 1, 2007, just before tax season started rolling," said Jim Metzler (pictured), vice president of small firm interests at the AICPA. "It kicked into high gear after tax season."

The SBA will work with the AICPA in a variety of SBA programs, including Women's Business Centers and Small Business Development Centers, and with SBA Resource Partners, who are mainly retired executives who do volunteer work. CPAs already teach classes at many SBA regional centers. Under the terms of their agreement, the SBA and the AICPA will also provide speakers at each other's conferences and material for each other's publications.

Metzler noted that the SBA programs have improved in recent years, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the SBA was on the receiving end of heavy criticism for its slow, bureaucratic processes. Steven Preston was appointed administrator of the SBA and he streamlined many procedures at the agency. More recently he has been appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (see Bush Taps SBA Chief to Head HUD).

"The big thing was getting rid of that taint of the SBA," said AICPA senior technical manager Mark Koziel. "We felt we could do that fairly quickly. We developed a pocket guide, A Guide to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which accountants could carry. When they're working with a client, they can go into their pocket guide and see if the SBA has anything available to them." The AICPA also has devoted part of its Private Company Practice Section site to a resource center with information on SBA programs.

One of the most important resources will be the availability of SBA-guaranteed loans, particularly in today's economic climate when many banks are cutting back on lending even to their regular, credit-worthy customers who simply need extra money to finance a business expansion.

"We need to change the public perception of what an SBA loan is, that it's a lot of paperwork," said AICPA PCPS project manager Natasha Schamberger. "They have a few loans where they've been able to streamline the process. With economic conditions being what they are, an SBA loan might be a really good alternative."

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