WASHINGTON, D.C. ( TheStreet) -- Fewer small-business owners sought out credit last year amid a persistently challenging economic environment.

According to the National Federation of Independent Business' latest credit report, the Washington-based organization found that 48% of businesses polled in October had applied for credit during the year, whether it was a bank loan, a business credit card or other line of credit, versus 55% of the participants in 2009.

Of the 52% of owners who did not borrow money, most did not want to take on more credit, the survey said. But some -- 15% -- were discouraged borrowers, while 24% pared down their credit request for fear of being rejected.

On a positive note, approximately 41% of small employers that did obtain credit got the full financing amount requested. In contrast, 16% of applicants were rejected, the survey found.

Over the past year, many large and regional banks have turned to courting small businesses as a way to grow revenue.

When economic conditions improve enough that weaker prospects look to seek credit, though, it is possible credit access for the overall small-business population will deteriorate before improving, the NFIB cautioned.

"Unfortunately, the economic atmosphere for small businesses did not improve much in 2010," said Denny Dennis, NFIB Research Foundation senior fellow and report author.

New federal policies have fallen short, Dennis says, by failing to address underlying real estate and demand problems or to "quickly and effectively aid small businesses in their struggle to grow in the current unfavorable economic conditions."

Dennis continued: "This recovery period will be unique, and we don't expect credit levels to reach the levels they did a decade ago."

The survey was conducted by the Gallup Organization for the NFIB. The results are based on 856 employers that have between one and 250 employees.

While the results of the NFIB's survey may not be shocking -- credit access, particularly for small businesses, has only just begun to ease following the financial crisis -- it does bolster the argument small businesses are still troubled.

The report included some other interesting statistics:
  • Borrowers' second and third tries at getting credit proved more beneficial even though, typically, credit approval "declines with each consecutive institution approached," the survey said.
  • Credit cards were generally easier to get than other forms of credit; 95% of applicants were granted a credit card on the first try.
  • Real estate ownership continues to drag on small-business owners' ability to borrow, with 68% of participants having at least one mortgage; 17% at least one second mortgage; and 12% at least one mortgage collateralized.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact the writer of this article, click here: Laurie Kulikowski.

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