Before heading to the checkout counter and plunking down your plastic, you might want to consider equipment leasing. Leasing lowers your initial equipment costs and keeps the latest technology in your hands. Office Depot has a $900 equipment minimum to participate in its business-leasing program; the company offers approval within 15 minutes.
Generally, most leasing companies offer a variety of end-of-lease options, such as trading in equipment after your lease period is over, purchasing it for fair market value and even buying it for $1. In addition to computer retailers, computer manufacturers like Dell (http://www.dell.com) and Compaq (http://www.compaq.com), online retailers such as Computer Discount Warehouse and a variety of third-party companies offer leasing programs.
Leasing isn't for everyone. Be sure to read the fine print and carefully consider the (not-so) minor details, including interest rates and insurance requirements. (For more on leasing, see September's "Tech Know" column.)
By the time you head for the counter, hopefully you've done your online research, gleaned useful advice from customer service representatives and focused on getting the best features for your money. As I found out, a lot of thought is required in order to make the perfect choices. But it's definitely time (and money) well-spent. Happy shopping!