Health care, shutdown, hiring and lending top challenges for small business owners in 2013

NEW YORK — Small business owners are probably glad to put 2013 into the books.


For many, it was a frustrating year of waiting. Waiting to learn about the new health care law. Wai­ting for lawmakers to solve budget disagreements. And waiting for the economy to improve. But in the end, owners fought inertia and appear to be looking forward to 2014. Hiring seems to be showing an uptick, and lending to small businesses is improving.

Here’s a look at some of the big issues small business owners faced this year:

HEALTH CARE: Small businesses began 2013 with questions. By the year’s end, there were few answers.

Companies struggled to sign up for insurance for employees on federally run Web sites. After a series of computer glitches and delays, the government said businesses would have to buy through brokers, agents and insurance companies until November 2014.

Coverage that goes into effect Jan. 1 or later must conform to the law. Many businesses sidestepped the requirements by renewing policies in 2013.

Owners had mixed reviews about coverage on government Web sites. Some with mostly younger workers found they’ll be paying more than expected. The law is designed to lower premiums for older and sicker workers by including younger, healthier ones in the pool of insured people. Many owners were disappointed by the limited choice of plans.

However, some owners said they were pleased with the premiums they found online because they were comparable to the rates they were already paying.

Experts said it will take at least a year for businesses to know how the law will affect them.

BUDGET PROBLEMS: The $85 billion in budget cuts that took effect March 1 hurt small businesses with federal contracts. Some lost revenue and had to lay off workers. Businesses in states with a large concentration of government facilities bore the brunt.

The government shutdown and deadlock in Congress over the budget in October was more harmful to small businesses than larger companies. Some federal contractors couldn’t get paid. Companies that wanted Small Business Administration-backed loans had to wait longer for approvals.

HIRING: In January, small businesses added 106,000 jobs, according to payroll provider ADP. Optimism about a small business hiring boom dissipated as the number of new jobs fell in February and then averaged nearly 70,000 through October.

Near the end of the year came a glimmer of hope. ADP reported that small businesses created 102,000 new jobs in November. More insight that could bode well for small business hiring next year came from a Bank of America survey. Thirty-one percent of owners questioned in the fall said they planned to hire, and 56 percent of those owners said they needed employees to boost business in 2014. That could be good news for the broader economy.