Experian, a global information services company, announced Tuesday that an increase in severely delinquent account balances and slower consumer spending growth posed a challenge to small businesses that will likely continue throughout the rest of the year and most of 2013.

The credit quality measured by the Experian/Moody's Analytics Small Business Credit Index began deteriorating in the third quarter ended Sept. 30 after four consecutive quarters of improvement.

Findings from the report showed that while 30- and 60-day past-due balances have improved, those that are considered severely delinquent (more than 90 days past due) have not improved after climbing 11.4 percent during the first three quarters of last year, according to the Index.

"Businesses are reluctant to take on new credit, and severely delinquent credit remains uncomfortably high," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "It is encouraging, however, that early-stage delinquency is declining and that credit scores are holding up. Credit conditions should improve if the president and Congress are able to reasonably address our fiscal problems."

Adds Allen Anderson, president of Experian's Business Information Services, "Having a high level of severe delinquency is as troubling for a small business as it is for a consumer. Making timely payments and reducing delinquent debt are critical to improving a business's credit profile, making it possible for the business to achieve positive growth. When continually faced with a large amount of debt, businesses can be forced to make the same tough decisions that consumers do, except these decisions can impact others in terms of employment or salary adjustments."

When looking at measures of business health, the Q3 report found that the average commercial risk score (57.1) remained stable across geographic regions despite the disproportionate regional effects associated with the slowing global economy. Additionally, the report found that U.S. businesses paid their bills an average of 7.4 days beyond contracted terms in September 2012, the same as during the second quarter. However, when compared year over year, average days beyond terms has increased by 2.5 percent.

Additional findings from the report show that the presidential election results likely will ensure the survival of the Affordable Care Act, which may pose another challenge for some small businesses.

The report shows that while the Affordable Care Act will have little impact on some companies, those businesses with 50 to 100 employees could face fines of up to $2,000 per worker if they fail to comply with the law.

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