Focus

Finding an alternative

Although Chicago was able to escape reality for a short time as the Blackhawks won the city's first Stanley Cup in 49 years, the rest of the U.S. was still struggling to survive in a weak economy. Fortunately, some small-business owners have been finding respite in institutions that specialize in microlending.

Microlenders typically are community-based nonprofit organizations that receive financing from the Small Business Administration (SBA); federal, state and local government agencies; and some philanthropies. And though microlending organizations focus mostly on the poor and disenfranchised and offer small loans (some as small as $25), some microlenders have realized their services are perfect for struggling small businesses that have been denied credit by traditional banks and credit card companies.

According to the Aspen Institute, a policy and research organization based in Washington, D.C., small-business loan applications to microlenders have increased 66 percent during the past two years. The Aspen Institute says of the 700 microlending groups it studied, about 400 offer small-business loans. The average maximum loan amount is $35,000. Most small-business loans fall between $5,000 and $35,000.

According to The New York Times, each microlender has an annual lending limit of $750,000, which SBA sets. The average microloan in 2008 was a 10-year loan of $11,500 at an annual interest rate of about 11 percent.

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