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Making an Encouraging Point

It's no secret that millions of entrepreneurs rely on credit cards to jump-start their businesses. Now, a tiny fraction of that spending will flow the other way -- back to owners of the fledgling ventures known as microenterprises.

American Express has agreed to donate 1% of spending from a new small-business credit card to three nonprofit organizations that provide loans and technical help to microenterprises -- typically businesses with fewer than five employees and capital needs of less than $35,000 a year. Owners of such businesses often have difficulty obtaining bank loans because the amount they seek is too small or their assets and experience are minimal.

American Express won't say how many entrepreneurs it expects to sign up for the new card, which is aimed at small-biz owners and called the Community Business Credit Card, but a spokesman predicted it will generate "several million dollars" in donations to the non-profits. The groups slated to receive the funds are: Accion USA, Count-Me-In for Women's Economic Independence, and the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, a trade group for microenterprise development.

ONE WORD, PLASTIC. The new card is virtually identical to American Express's Optima credit card. It carries an interest rate of 3.9% for six months, which then bumps to the prime plus 5.99%, or 14.49% as of March 1. The card also offers a credit line of up to $50,000 with no annual fee.

The one key difference is the 1% donation to microenterprise. "We do believe that there are hundreds of thousands of small business owners out there who will respond positively to this card," says Amex spokesman Richard D'Ambrosio. "They remember what it was like when they were starting out, how difficult it was to get financing and support."

No doubt Amex is hoping that those microentrepreneurs, as they begin to build their businesses, will pick up the habit of relying on plastic, too. By Julie Fields in New York

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