There are a lot of people who think they could use a personal computer but are convinced that buying one -- new or used -- isn't the solution. What, they wonder, about leasing?

Well, unless you're a small businessman or someone who needs a word processor in the home for business reasons, it's not very attractive. And even then, it's something you'd want to look at closely.

The reason is simple: Leasing is almost certainly going to cost you more than just buying a personal computer outright -- even if you have to finance the purchase with a personal loan at today's outrageous interest rates.

That's because, according to the way most leases for personal computers are being written nowadays, what you're really doing is buying the computer. When the lease ends, you get to keep the computer for a small additional charge or payment. As for the lease payments themselves, they are really nothing more than an amortized repayment schedule of the computer's purchase price based on interest rates of anywhere from 19 to 30 percent a year -- nothing to laugh off when you could probably obtain a personal loan for the same amount at your local bank for between 18 and 21 percent.

Why lease? As a small businessman or woman, you might not have a lot of cash on hand but you do have a good cash flow. Leasing, then, will limit your cash outlay for equipment, give you the benefit of some capital investment credit -- provided you qualify -- while also allowing you to deduct "interest" charges on your taxes.

You also might be able to deduct the entire amount of your lease as a business expense. But that, as one salesman emphasized to me, "is between you and your accountant." In other words, the IRS might have something to say about such a deduction, particularly in view of the fact that the feds could argue that the lease is really an installment purchase.

Here's how a typical lease might work:

Since most stores will lease any of the computers they carry, you simply select the system you want just as if you were going to purchase it. You do all the standard stuff, like haggling with the store about price. Then you fill out a lease application form, opting typically for whatever payoff time you want. The store then submits your application to a leasing company along with its quote on the equipment.

Three or so days later you hear whether you've been accepted or rejected. Keep in mind, too, that you will probably have to pay at least two months' worth of payments in advance as a "security deposit" on your system.

Let's say you want an IBM word processing system that includes a "letter-quality" printer -- that means the finished product will look like a secretary typed it on an electric typewriter. Something like that would cost about $6,000 to $7,000.

You opt for a five-year lease, at the end of which, if you want to buy it, you'll still owe 20 percent of the original purchase quote. That will probably cost you between $160 and $200 a month depending on the interest rate, which in rare cases can run as low as the current prime rate, provided you're a good business risk.

Should you discover midway through your lease that you no longer need the system, you will have to dicker with the company holding your lease as to whether you can break it and recoup any of your security payment. Don't count on being able to break the lease, certainly not unless you're willing to pay a big penalty.

Were you to buy a system using a personal loan obtained through your bank, your payments will be high -- the loan term will probably be no longer than 24 months -- and you will have had to put down probably 20 percent of the purchase price. But in the end the cost would be far lower. In the case of the above mentioned IBM system, your downpayment would be about $1,200 and your monthly payment about $240 to $250 a month.