It wasn't easy for Arline Wong to qualify for the small loan she needed to start up A.W. Multi Medical Billing Services, in Chicago. "When you come to bankers and tell them you need $15,000, they don't take you seriously," she says.

Wong finally won approval last autumn from a local bank, with help from Chicago's Women's Business Development Center. But she was determined to prove her creditworthiness. "Rather than have the loan officer just send one check to my office, I gave the bank a list showing exactly how much I needed to spend with each of my suppliers, and asked it to pay them directly." That helped Wong build a track record with the bank quickly by proving (1) that her cost projections were accurate, and (2) that she'd adhere strictly to her business plan.

Those bank checks paid mainly for computer equipment and software programs. "I wanted my bank to see that I planned to spend its loan in exactly the way I had proposed in my application package," notes Wong. There was only one difference: "Originally, I had planned to use part of the loan to cover my rent until my business started generating enough cash to pay it. But before I had even moved in, my landlord raised the rent to a level I considered unacceptable. So I set up the business in my home, instead."

Wong hopes to use her microloan to establish a credit history "that will help me raise more capital in the future, if I need it." But in the short run, she hopes to pay off the three-year loan as quickly as possible -- within the year if cash flow can handle it.

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