Q. Why does LoanCensus.com publish information about SBA loans?
A. When a business obtains an SBA loan, it is a news event that is of interest to small business owners and many others. We are a small business news and information site. Our organizational charter is to help small business owners and entrepreneurs. Given the important role that SBA loans play in the economy, we view publishing as much information and news as possible regarding SBA loans (and the activities of the SBA) as being very consistent with our charter. More generally, we believe that citizens and taxpayers have a right to know what their government is up to and what is being done with government tax dollars.
Q. How does publishing SBA loan information concerning individual businesses help the public interest?
A. Put yourself in the shoes of a small business owner who wants to obtain an SBA loan. It would be very helpful to know what banks are providing SBA loans to businesses like yours in your area, wouldn't it? Without access to historic SBA loan records, it is very difficult to know which banks you should approach and what your likelihood of success will be. Access to historical loan records gives you a useful tool that is helpful to your obtaining small business credit, which in turn fuels the growth of the overall economy. Keeping this information private is a disservice to the public, and disclosing the information publicly is unquestionably in the interests of our nation's business owners and the overall public interest.
Looking at the issue from another perspective, SBA guarantees are in effect funded with taxpayer money, and the operations of the agency are funded with tax dollars. U.S. citizens have the right to understand what types of businesses are being funded with SBA loans. They have the right to see the raw loan data at its most elemental level to assess trends for themselves. Moreover, SBA lending fraud occasionally occurs, and publishing loan data also allows ordinary citizens to police SBA lending activity for SBA loan fraud. Full disclosure and transparency sheds light on the SBA's performance of its statutory duties. For all of these reasons, it is in the public's interest to have full transparency with respect to SBA lending.
Q. Where do you obtain the information on SBA loans that you publish?
A. We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the SBA to obtain the loan database. Many other journalists and news organizations have requested this information in the past and it is available for news organization purchase via NICAR. NICAR stands for National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a program of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. and the Missouri School of Journalism. If you are interested in obtaining this data and are not a NICAR member, you should file your own FOIA request.
Q. Are you legally allowed to publish this information?
A. Yes. These are public records obtained through legal means. As a news organization, we have every right to publish this information.
Q. Isn't publishing loan information an invasion of privacy for the business owners who obtained these loans?
A. No. Businesses apply for SBA loans, not individuals. No personal privacy interest is relevant to the publishing of this information. Businesses have very limited rights to privacy, and certainly any business that obtains an SBA loan or is granted a federal contract does so knowing that the transaction will be a matter of public record.
Q. Even though you have the legal right to publish this information, do you respect a business owner's request for privacy?
A. Yes. Our concern for privacy issues is strong. Here are some steps we have taken to be privacy-friendly:
- After receiving a written request to do so, we remove business name and address information from loan detail pages. We provide instructions on this matter at the bottom of every loan detail page on the site. The process is simple, straightforward and cost-free – just use our online form to let us know.
- We choose not to publish information that we deem to be "over the line" with respect to personal privacy. For example, the SBA database contains information regarding whether an SBA loan is ultimately paid back or whether there is a loan default. We feel that knowledge that an SBA loan recipient business did not pay back a loan in full could in some rare instances be potentially damaging to the reputation of the business. For this reason, we do not include that information, even though it would certainly shed additional light on the efficacy of the agency. We also choose to not publish the phone number of the business loan applicant.
Q. Why is publishing the name of the business receiving a loan in the public interest? Couldn't you just remove the business name and still publish the loan details without identifying the business?
A. The business name is very relevant for local business owners who are using our news pages to assess their chances of getting an SBA loan or to develop strategies to obtain an SBA loan. For example, the buyer of a Subway franchise wants to know whether other Subway franchisees in the area were able to get SBA loans. In this instance, if the loan detail page were to refer to the loan recipient as Business X, much of the value of the information would be lost. Similarly, business owners may want to browse through business names for relevant keywords in the business names (e.g. "design", "auto", etc.). Alternatively, they may simply find it useful to know that a specific business that they know by name has obtained an SBA loan.
The inability to know the business names also hinders the ability of anybody who wants to look for patterns in the data that shed light on the SBA's performance of its statutory duties. Notably, concerned individuals can use this information as a check against SBA agency corruption.
For all of these reasons, it is our conclusion that obscuring the business names in the data would greatly reduce its value to the general public and, more specifically, to entrepreneurs who are seeking capital and who are referencing this information as part of their fundraising efforts.
We balance this with the downside of publishing business names, which we view to be nonexistent. We see no plausible, non-speculative harm that is possible from this information being published. The fact that businesses use loans to fund operations is public knowledge. That many of these loans are SBA loans is public knowledge. The knowledge that a specific business received an SBA loan in the past carries no negative stigma to it; indeed, the ability to obtain an SBA loan should be viewed as a sign of strength, given that many businesses never get their act together to apply for a loan or are rejected if they do not choose to apply. Finally, those who accept government-backed loans surely recognize that this is a matter of public record. We believe that an ordinary reasonable person would not find our loan information to be highly offensive in any way.
Q. Do you publish the data exactly as you receive it from the SBA?
A. Yes. If there are any mistakes in the data, they are in the SBA datasets housed on the SBA's computers in Washington, D.C. If you see a mistake in the data on our site, let us know. However, to permanently correct the data you will need to contact the SBA.
Q. My business is listed as having received an SBA loan but we never have gotten a loan from the SBA? What does this mean?
You should investigate this immediately. It's entirely possible that an unethical individual has applied for an SBA loan in the name of your business, potentially putting your finances at risk. You should contact the SBA lender and the SBA to resolve this matter. While we are concerned for your situation, we are hopeful that identification of this issue will help the SBA to eradicate any fraud that may have been committed, bring villains to justice, and mitigate any further damages.
Q. You published my home address. Why did you do that, rather than publishing my business address?
Again, we publish the data verbatim as it is received from the SBA. You may have used your home address on your original loan application. Alternatively, the SBA dataset may have the incorrect address. In any case, we will happily suppress your address from the loan detail page or will eliminate all of your business information, including your business name, from the loan detail page. Simply contact us by following the instructions at the bottom of the loan detail page.
Q. Does the SBA view this information as being private in nature?
A. In answering FOIA requests, the SBA is compelled to look at whether privacy issues are being threatened by the disclosure of the data. Given that they have disclosed loan information to many FOIA inquiries, it suggests that they do not believe any privacy exemptions are relevant to these FOIA requests. If you feel otherwise, you should take it up with the SBA.
Q. Will your policies change over time?
A. Yes. We may change our policies at any time. Our primary goal is to serve the public interest by helping the small business economy to grow. At the same time, we respect all applicable laws and regulations. Generally speaking, we also try to "do the right thing." With these drivers in mind, we may amend our policies in the future or opt not to publish certain data going forward.