Despite such trepidation, the nation's largest financial institutions know their reputations could use some burnishing. So they're doing what they can to generate some positive PR. After the meeting at the White House, Bank of America ( BAC) announced it would increase business loans by at least $5 billion over the next year, and U.S. Bancorp ( USB) Chief Executive Officer Richard Davis talked about setting "very aggressive goals" for small-business lending.

Does that mean you can expect easy, few-questions-asked financing in the year to come? Probably not. What's been overlooked in all this Wall Street and Washington talk is the very nature of "small business" itself.

The Small Business Administration considers any company with 500 or fewer employees a small business. But a manufacturer that employs 400 people at multiple facilities has completely different needs from a tech start-up with a handful of workers who gather in the founder's home office.

David Gass, founder of Business Credit Services, which offers credit-building programs, business-plan consulting and other services to small businesses, says the needs of micro-businesses are unlikely to be met by the big banks.

"The small-business owners who really need access to capital right now are the ones that are the highest risk and the least likely to get financing," he says. "They see the opportunity to grow and add jobs by taking market share from other companies that aren't surviving because they grew too fast or had too much overhead. These small-business owners could drive local economies and start growing jobs, but the challenge is they just aren't qualified businesses or borrowers 80% of the time."

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