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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.

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