June 3 (Reuters) - U.S. small businesses borrowed more in April than in March, driving the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index to a seven-year high, according to data released on Tuesday.
Defaults on loans stayed near record lows, a separate PayNet index showed.
Together the figures suggest small business owners are becoming more optimistic about future growth without overextending themselves, boding well for continued overall U.S. economic expansion, PayNet founder Bill Phelan said.
"There must have been some pent-p demand" after the unusually severe winter, Phelan said. Now, he said, "we are really gaining steam."
The index, which measures the volume of financing to small companies, rose to 126.5 in April from 115.3 in March, PayNet said. That was the highest since March 2007, and marked the second 18-percent year-on-year gain in a row.
The index is correlated with U.S. gross domestic product growth two to five months ahead, and adds to evidence suggesting the U.S. economy is set for a rebound after a dismal first quarter.
A separate index released by PayNet showed loan delinquencies unchanged from the prior month, with delinquencies of 31 to 180 days, PayNet's broadest measure of late loan payments, at 1.49 percent of all loans made.
The index hit a high of 4.73 percent in August 2009. The record low was 1.44 percent last October.
PayNet collects real-time loan information such as originations and delinquencies from more than 250 leading U.S. lenders. (Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by James Dalgleish)