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Sam's Club partners with lender to offer small-business loans

By Mae Anderson
Wednesday, July 7, 2010; A11

Wal-Mart's Sam's Club chain is partnering with a lender to offer loans of up to $25,000 to its small-business members.

The program is one of several moves the retail giant has made to offer banklike financial services to customers, in part to help them spend. It also comes as the retailer tries to improve profitability at its warehouse-club chain.

The division of Wal-Mart Stores, based in Bentonville, Ark., is testing a program with Superior Financial Group, one of 13 federally licensed nonbank lenders, and will offer loans of $5,000 to $25,000 to members who qualify. They don't have to spend the money at Sam's Club.

Sam's Club says 15 percent of its business members reported they were denied a loan in a November survey. That's up from 12 percent in April 2009.

The program will focus on minority-, female- and veteran-owned businesses. Sam's Club members who apply for a small-business loan during the pilot will receive $100 off the application fee, a 20 percent discount and a discount on interest rates.

Businesses can pay $35 for a membership to Sam's Club that includes three annual membership cards that allow them to shop at 600 Sam's Clubs in the United States. Sam's Club offers other memberships to consumers and businesses that cost as much as $100 annually, depending on the features included.

Although the economy has grown for three consecutive quarters, tight credit remains a problem for many consumers and businesses.

"Access to capital is a major pain point for our members," said Catherine Corley, vice president, membership at Sam's Club.

The loan program isn't Wal-Mart's first attempt to offer financial products. In 2007 it tried to establish a bank, but dropped the bid after heated debate over whether the world's largest retailer should be allowed to gain the added financial power of a federally insured bank.

In June, the company took a 1 percent stake in Green Dot, which has provided Wal-Mart's MoneyCard, a prepaid debit card, since 2007.

Wal-Mart earlier this year cut 11,200 Sam's Club jobs when it turned over in-store demonstrations to an outside company. Sam's also closed 10 underperforming stores, which cost another 1,500 jobs.

Shares of Wal-Mart rose 57 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $48.57.

-- Associated Press

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