NEW YORK (AP) — Small businesses are improving their credit ratings, but companies that have severe delinquencies are having a hard time paying down their debts, according to credit rating companies Experian and Moody's Analytics.

The Experian/Moody's Analytics Small Business Credit Index rose 0.9 point to 104.1 in the second quarter from 103.2 the first three months of the year. That was the third straight quarterly gain in the index, which had fallen for much of 2011 as more companies struggled to pay their bills after the recession.

The study also found that the amount of overdue balances that small businesses owed held steady during the second quarter, but fell nearly 9 percent from a year earlier. However, there is less progress being made to reduce delinquencies greater than 90 days. These severely delinquent balances have risen 9.5 percent since the first quarter of 2011 and now match their 2009 peak.

Looking forward, the study said, slower consumer spending could hurt companies' sales and in turn, their ability to reduce their debt further. Consumer spending was anemic in the second quarter and contributed to a meager 1.5 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product.