Every year, business owner Jim Fab lends his 25 employees as much as $4,000 interest-free for personal expenses they can't afford up front, ranging from down payments on homes and cars to funeral and legal fees. Most pay him back – eventually.

"I had a guy send me $300 a month for three years after he quit," says Mr. Fab, whose electrical-contracting company, Fab Electric Inc., has been in operation in Gaithersburg, Md., since 1978.

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Contributors:
  • Sarah E. Needleman