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Question: My family runs a clothing manufacturing business. Several years ago, we received a bank loan for $450,000 which helped us launch a very successful enterprise. But we're so successful almost all of our free cash is tied up in receivables, and we're still in dire need of more growth capital. Should we go back to the bank for a line of credit or are there other alternatives?

Answer: Usually, banks aren't thrilled about lending too much money to the apparel industry, so this might not be such a great option for your business. A line of credit can get pretty expensive, so you'll have to weigh the cost of capital vs. your net profits to see if this is a viable solution.

But don't despair, there are other alternatives from which to choose! Finance companies like Heller Financial (a Chicago-based international finance company), AT & T; Capital Corp., (the third-largest small-business lender in the country), and the Money Store (the leading non-bank lender in number of loans to small businesses) all are good places to start.

Not only will these companies find ways to meet your immediate capital needs, they are also positioned to set up long-term financial relationships.

Of course there's always some bad that goes with the good. A finance company usually wants to have hard assets to support your loan, and it will watch those assets carefully. If you have a strong asset base, however, you will probably get a larger loan from a finance company than you would from a bank.

If you're uncomfortable with a finance company, there are other places you can turn. Credit unions are also suppliers of capital to entrepreneurial growth companies. With a credit union, you may get the money you need as well as good advice from loan officers about your business problems. A good credit union can become your company's partner.

American Express offers its Small Business Services cardholders the option to apply for an unsecured line of credit up to $50,000. It also offers equipment leasing up to $25,000 for members and non-members.

You can also borrow against your life insurance policy if it's a permanent policy. The insurance company will lend you as much as the cash value of the policy minus interest. (If your policy is an old one, this might be especially smart your policy might have a much lower interest rate than the going rate today.) On the downside, there might be tax consequences check with a tax advisor first.

As always, before deciding on any type of financial option, do your homework. In order to determine the best capital-raising option for your business, you will need to analyze the long-term as well as the short-term implications. Never wait until you're desperate to raise money, because that's usually when you make your worst choices. With a strong stock market and low and steady interest rates, it's wise to build a strong capital structure now for your company's future.

Q: I spend a good portion of my time in the car traveling from one client to another, and dialing for dollars. With all of the choices available for cellular phones (and the serious lack of good service), I'd like your thoughts on what's currently available.

A: There are lots of different options, and hopefully service will improve in the near future. But in order to buy the right cell phone system now, you must choose wisely, so here are some facts to help you out:

? Digital vs. analog. As we speak, digital technology delivers higher-quality sound (less static) and is more secure than traditional analog networks. It also has the capability of sending and receiving all types of non-voice data, including e-mails, faxes, and even information like stock quotes, sports scores, and headline news. The problem is, it isn't everywhere ? yet. What you can do now is get a dual-mode phone that defaults to an analog system when you're no longer traveling in a digital network zone.

? Dialing from overseas. I just got back from a business trip through the South of France and Switzerland. It was so frustrating for me, phone junkie that I am, to have to sit and watch while the Europeans were doing business via their cell phones. But I've discovered that there is hope for us fonatics yet! There's the Omnipoint phone, which operates on an international standard. In order to convert your cell phone, you must visit an authorized Omnipoint dealer and purchase a SIM card. The card resembles your ATM card; you slip it into your phone and voila! Here's the best part of it: There's no charge for the card!

? Cheaper may be better. Of course everyone worries about the cost of running up a huge cellular phone bill. But in today's marketplace, service providers are granting free local minutes to ease your fears. There are lots of different offers to choose from, but the ones that appear to be best are those that offer a fixed number of minutes free. Another attractive feature is the "first incoming minute free," which essentially doesn't cost you a cent for the first minute of every incoming call.

? Roaming charges. If you frequently travel outside of your local area, you should obviously look for providers that have cheaper "roaming" plans. Digital networks are often better for "roamers" they charge about the same for roaming rates as a regular long-distance company. Another way to save money is to buy a pre-paid calling plan that will give you a certain number of minutes per month. That could help you stay within a fixed budget.

A lot of cellular phone providers offer newfangled phones with lots of bells and whistles. Just be careful that you don't lock yourself into a deal that doesn't fit your personal needs and budgets. As technology advances, these services will become even less expensive, so you don't need too much sophistication today. Get a cheaper service and grow with the new technology.

Lorraine Spurge is a personal finance advisor, author and business news commentator. She can be reached at (818) 705-3740 or by e-mail at lspurge@spurgeink.com.

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