Fair, Isaac & Co. and Net Earnings of Burlingame, Calif., have jointly developed an Internet service that lets small businesses check the creditworthiness of trading partners.

The service, Credit FYI, is aimed at the three million small businesses that are on-line and extend trade credit to other companies, said Latimer Asch, vice president of San Rafael, Calif.-based Fair, Isaac. On average, small businesses issue credit 30 times a year.

The service taps into data from the credit bureau Experian Information Solutions Inc. and uses Fair, Isaac's predictive technology to determine risk levels.

Net Earnings is a two-year-old company that offers Internet financial services to small businesses.

Banks can provide cobranded links to Credit FYI from their Web sites, Mr. Asch said. Banks do not pay for Credit FYI and do not earn a fee from it. The link is intended to direct traffic to bank Web sites and increase their attractiveness to current and potential small-business customers, said Michael S. Grossman, president and chief executive officer of Net Earnings.

"Banks are investing in their Web sites and are looking for ways to add value so people come back," Mr. Asch said.

Carolina First Corp. of Greenville, S.C., is one of the first to offer the service, which became available in late June.

"This is a way to tie our Internet interest to one of our major markets," said Mack Whittle, president and chief executive officer of the $2.5 billion-asset holding company.

In addition, he said, his small-business customers can use Credit FYI to root out delinquent trading partners and thereby improve their payment flows. This, in turn, helps the bank, Mr. Whittle said.

Mr. Asch added, "If small businesses manage their cash flow better, it improves the probability of repayment on their bank obligations."

A credit evaluation costs $14.95. If Experian cannot provide enough information for a full evaluation, the fee is $4.95. There is no charge if Experian cannot provide any data.

With Fair, Isaac predictive input, a report might estimate a business' ability to repay, relative to other small businesses.

In addition to the rating, the report provides a credit history with information on any outstanding liens, judgments against a firm, overdue payments, bankruptcies, and other trade credit relationships.

Traditionally, small businesses have called companies such as Experian- formerly known as TRW-directly, but Credit FYI developers said that their software makes the process quicker, easier, and cheaper.

Harry Hull, co-owner of San Francisco-based H2B Co., said he plans to use Credit FYI before shipping his relaxation pillows to certain stores that want to pay 30 days later. Mr. Hull had relied on his marketing representatives to evaluate a retailer's creditworthiness because calling credit bureaus directly was too expensive.

"Credit FYI is an excellent tool for businesses like ours that don't have the resources to follow up every credit application in a thorough way," he said.

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