Here's a guide with three great things to recommend it: The Credit Process: A Guide for Small Business Owners is short, it's comprehensible, and it's free. For start-up companies (or for those that have yet to hire a sophisticated financial team), this 26-page brochure belongs in the must-read category.

Where else can you learn (without getting snooty looks from bank officers) how banks actually perform credit analyses? The booklet has only one glaring weakness: a section on what to do if your application is not approved is woefully brief. To order up to 50 free copies, write the Public Information Department, New York Federal Reserve Bank, 33 Liberty St., New York, NY 10045.

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