When Krista Belber decided to open a day care center, she took out a line of credit on the equity in her home and opened Their First Years in the Smithville section of Galloway Township.

“I just had the desire to work with children,” the Mullica Township resident said. “I had three children of my own, so I wanted to be able to work and raise them at the same time.”

The center now cares for 35 youngsters, ages 6 weeks to 6 years, and has seven employees, Belber said.

But Belber said that if she were starting out now, it would be much more difficult, if not impossible.

“I probably wouldn’t be able to do it, with the economy so tight and banks and credit cards holding everything to a minimum,” she said.

Belber’s story typifies the results of a survey of women business owners conducted for PNC Bank. The study found that female entrepreneurs are confident in their businesses but that too many use credit cards and personal assets to finance their ventures.

The study found 64 percent of female business owners in New Jersey use business credit cards, which charge high interest rates, and 35 percent charge business expenses to a personal credit card, said Hamilton Township resident Pam Blue, business banking sales manager for PNC. Nationwide, 59 percent of female business owners use a business credit card and 34 percent use a personal credit card.

Whether women are averse to taking out loans or fear a bank will not give them a business loan is unclear, Blue said.

“It’s one of those cases where we feel we can do a better job in educating the women business owners, because we see that we can help them with their cash flow,” Blue said. “They’re very confident in their businesses, that’s for sure. But they’re also thinking, ‘I’m going to do it this way,’ which may not be the best way.”

Before taking out a second mortgage or racking up credit card debt, women should talk with a banker to make sure their business plan makes sense and to discuss the possibility of a business loan, she said.

For the study of women business owners, PNC hired the Artemis Strategy Group, which conducted a telephone survey of more than 1,300 women, including 150 in New Jersey, said Edward J. Kozmor, of Medford Township, Burlington County, vice president of media relations for the bank.

Male entrepreneurs are more willing to take out a business loan, while women seem more averse to long-term debt, Kozmor said.

While women are confident of success in their own businesses, they are less sure about the economy, both national and local, Kozmor said. Most are reluctant to hire new employees.

“Right now, they’re holding off on that,” Kozmor said.

The survey found only 14 percent of New Jersey female business owners, and only 15 percent nationwide, plan to hire more people in the coming six months.

Belber is one of the few who plans to hire in the near future, as one worker is going on maternity leave and another is quitting for another job, she said.

She thinks the outlook for the South Jersey economy is “so-so,” not as bad as at the depth of the recession, but not as good as when she opened Their First Years.

Thinking ahead

Mary Pat Myers, owner of MP Myers Photography in Cape May, said she also used her own resources to start her business about 20 years ago, but did it through saving rather than going into debt.

Myers, a former human-resources director at a computer company, said she did photography as a hobby but started doing it as a career after she fell in love with Cape May when visiting her parents there.

“I decided to take the plunge in the late ’80s, open a business and pursue my dream,” Myers said.

Myers said she got a job as an assistant administrator of a local nursing home and did wedding photography on weekends. She used the money she earned to buy cameras and other equipment. When she had everything paid for, she quit her full-time job.

“I saw other photographers not being able to run a business because they didn’t plan too well,” and ran up debt to buy equipment, Myers said. So she decided to pay for everything up front.

Myers said she makes most of her money in the summer, and has to plan for the leaner months. In the winter, she runs specials to photograph children and pets in her studio.

Women who could use a boost with their enterprises are welcome to attend a women’s business development event by the not-for-profit Count Me In on Sept. 25-26 in Philadelphia, said the organization’s media coordinator, Marybeth Grasso. The goal of the “Make Mine a Million $ Business” meetings is to help female entrepreneurs reach $1 million in revenue.

The event includes professional-development seminars, inspirational speakers and networking. Several women will compete for a chance to win a package that includes financial assistance and coaching on their business plan, Grasso said.

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Women business owners’ outlook for next six months
  New Jersey United States
Expect sales will increase 47% 51%
Expect profits will increase 38% 41%
Expect to do more hiring 4% 15%
Optimistic for future of business 27% 25%
Optimistic about U.S. economy 7% 5%
Optimistic about local economy 9% 12%
Source: PNC Women Business Owners Outlook survey