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What: A website that offers school loans - with a twist. Cash-strapped students link up with a network of well-heeled investors.

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Best points: Investors in Iempower, a two-year-old Manhattan company, provide money to pay for undergraduate or graduate degrees. Students, for their part, agree to pay a fixed percentage of income for a set period after graduation.

Iempower judges whether to offer assistance, and at what rate, by evaluating students' grade-point averages, test scores, and career goals. The repayment rates for undergraduates are between 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent for each $1,000 of earnings for a period of up to 15 years. For graduate students, they range from 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent per $1,000 for up to 10 years. The company caps aid amounts so that no one pays more than 15 percent of his or her future earnings.

What you should know: Whether these loans are better than conventional loans is a judgment call - since total repayment won't be known until graduates are well into their careers. And the company hasn't been around long enough to prove its mettle.

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