Anyone who's ever tried to sort out competing borrowing options knows how confusing it can be. Fortunately, there are software programs to help. One of the most versatile is Cashflow Planner.

Cashflow Planner allows you to move freely through planning and budgeting exercises based on your company's historical and forecasted data. Once you've plugged in numbers, you have total flexibility to play "what-if" games. You can make changes on your income statement, for example, and watch the ripple effect on your balance sheet. The program can help you anticipate funding gaps and can assist you in identifying the best ways to fill them.

Cashflow Planner's loan-comparison module lets you compare four loan options at once. You enter information about the amount each bank will lend, the interest rate, and the term. Then you score each loan on a scale of one to five on nine other criteria -- fees, collateral demands, approval time, and so forth. In seconds the program tells you whether a loan meets your standards, rating loans from "excellent" to "unsatisfactory."

And what about your chances of getting the loan? Based on information you've entered, including business data and lending criteria from banks, the program calculates 23 standard ratios (using built-in formulas) and spits out report cards in English.

Because Cashflow Planner is a stand-alone program, what you see is what you get; in its current form, you can't introduce new ratios, for instance, or even calculate the effect of a balloon payment.

Cashflow Planner costs $285 and is available from PMG Cashflow, in Bellevue, Wash., at (800) 242-3380. A tutorial is available for $5. -- Bruce G. Posner

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