Get On Track
If you're one of those Type A personalities who wants every minute filled with a constructive task, or if you just like to keep track of your financial affairs, a Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, company has introduced a handheld electronic investment organizer that makes the job easier.
The Toltek Portfolio Tracker enables you to store information on up to 80 different investments, including stocks, mutual funds, bonds and even cases of wine. The investments can be organized into categories such as taxable and nontaxable, or jointly held vs. sole ownership.
Using the organizer, which is about as big as a palm-sized calculator, you can input the name of the investment, the date it was purchased, the number of shares, price paid and more. Then each day you simply input any price changes and the organizer automatically updates the current value.
The Portfolio Tracker is available for $69.95 from the Sharper Image stores and catalogs or through Harrison Hoge Industry's mail order catalog. For more information, contact Toltek at (888) 865-8350.
Paper or Plastic?
As if the contents of your wallet weren't proof enough that entrepreneurs love plastic, consider these statistics: According to a study by Ram Research Group, from 1994 to 1995 the number of Visa business accounts climbed from 1.4 million to 2.5 million. MasterCard business accounts were close behind, jumping from 1.3 million to 2 million.
What's behind these numbers? Among the driving forces are bankers themselves, says Robert McKinley, president of Ram. "The consumer end of the business is pretty saturated," explains McKinley, whose Frederick, Maryland, firm publishes the newsletter Card Trak. "Most Americans already have one or two credit cards, so [credit card companies] are looking for new frontiers."
Previously, McKinley says, banks were not very enthusiastic about targeting small businesses because they believed entrepreneurs lacked the volume to be a lucrative market. Now, however, small businesses are booming-and bankers are eyeing them differently.
As for the entrepreneurs, the amenities credit card companies offer can be powerful inducements to use plastic, says McKinley, citing conveniences such as the ability to track expenses using monthly reports.
McKinley speculates that the perennial entrepreneurial strategy of using credit cards to finance a business may spark even greater credit card usage down the road. Given that small business is the new darling of the consumer market, it's safe to assume even more entrepreneurs will see plastic in their future.
Small business is big business to companies like American Express, which just launched a new line of credit and financing services aimed primarily at firms with 100 or fewer employees. These include a pre-approved revolving business credit card that, unlike the typical American Express card, enables the cardholder to maintain a balance. Interest rates vary but could start as low as prime plus 3 percentage points.
Successful applicants need a strong credit history and "some tenure as a business owner," says Ernie Berger of American Express. The program is open only to current American Express small-business card members and selected other firms. "Purchases made on the card are summarized on the monthly bill. Four times a year, you receive a management report with expenses separated by category," explains Berger.
American Express has also created a pre-approved business line of credit that cardholders can access via a checkbook. Credit limits, which range from $5,000 to $50,000, are determined by an assessment of the business's financial profile. The offer is available only to current cardholders who have been members for at least a year or strong companies that are at least a year old.
In addition to these two products, American Express has created an equipment-lease financing program for current cardholders, which allows entrepreneurs to find the best equipment deal, then come back to American Express for the lease. Terms range from one to five years, and Berger says there are a variety of lease options available.
For more information, call (800) SUCCESS.
Ram Research Group, P.O. Box 1700, Frederick, MD 21702, (301) 695-4660;
Toltek, P.O. Box 925, Oakland, NJ 07436, fax: (201) 337-5896;
Wells Fargo Bank, see listing under page 22.