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Author: Aparna Ananthasubramaniam

MAF’s 12 Data Points of Christmas

Happy Holidays, from our MAF familia to yours!

As the year comes to a close, we are reflecting not only on 2018, but on one decade of living our values in the community. Over the past 10 years, MAF has provided Lending Circles, immigration and business loans, DACA fee assistance, and financial coaching to over 15,000 people — scaling this impact across the country with the help of technology and over 60 nonprofit partners.

Now we’re going even further: Through these past ten years, we have gathered invaluable data and insights from people’s financial lives. With a vast dataset on how people manage to survive and thrive under the most difficult circumstances, we are turning our research insights into actionable lessons for the field.

We’re celebrating this holiday season by sharing some insights that stood out to us.

We hope you enjoy MAF’s 12 Data Points of Christmas: 

And check out our short report, featuring these findings and more.

You can stay in touch with MAF’s research team by following #MAFInsights on social media and at

In Their Own Words: The Hopes of Dreamers

Being responsive is one of the major goals of our organization and our R&D team. After a successful DACA renewal fee assistance program, we surveyed clients to identify ways in which we could continue to provide the best support. There’s existing research on DACA recipients’ family and employment situations, as well as the benefits of DACA. We wanted to add to this discourse by learning more about our community’s hopes and dreams for the future.

That’s why we asked a three-part open-ended question: “If you had a pathway to U.S. citizenship, what would be your personal, financial, and career aspirations?”

We invited respondents to fill in aspirations in each of these three categories and 350 individuals (~80% of total respondents) replied. We systematically coded the text they inputted into themes, and assigned codes to 96% of the responses. In the end, we coded 46 different hopes and dreams people shared. This process helped us to see the diversity of the community we serve in a whole new way. Check out this infographic for a summary of our learnings. 

The top 10 aspirations of DACA recipients:

Theme 1: DACA recipients aspire to support their families and communities

Although we didn’t provide respondents with pre-selected options to choose from, we saw high convergence in responses. Giving back and helping others were key themes that emerged from these responses. Respondents talked about their aspirations to further support their families (46%), enter a helping profession (43%), and give back to their community (23%). This is especially significant given our prior findings that almost all respondents already support their families and their communities in some way. One respondent shared with us:

“My personal aspiration is to one day be so stable in life and be able to help not only my family back in Guatemala but also many of the children who are trying to get away from all the violence in our country. Give education to many of the children who can’t financially afford to go to school.” -21 year old, Arizona

Theme 2: DACA recipients are trying to create a sense of stability in their lives

Security was a frequent theme, with 46% of respondents saying that they hope to increase their financial stability and 30% saying they would want to worry less and lead a happy life. The top four ways DACA recipients want to create a sense of stability: 1) Pursue or complete education (39%), 2) Buy a home (33%), 3) Get a better quality job (33%) or 4) Own their own business (18%). One respondent told us:

“I want my family to not have to worry about being deported and going back to a place we haven’t been to in over 13 years. I also want my community to not always have to be in fear or speaking up for themselves in case of retaliation.” -20 year old, California


This data is helping us understand the motivations and aspirations inspiring a large segment of the community we serve. It’s helping us develop new products specifically designed to help our clients work toward their aspirations, including:

  • A webinar series to help clients explore options for self-employment, as a way to improve job security and career prospects.
  • *Coming soon* – We’re building a financial coaching app, which includes content geared towards helping people build their family’s financial stability.
  • Expanding this data group to include all loan clients: we’re now asking all clients to share financial aspirations – that way, we can keep a pulse on what matters to them today, and in the future.

DACA = better jobs, stable families

$460 billion. That’s the estimated value that DACA recipients add to our GDP. In addition to the well-known economic impacts to our country, there is a good amount of research about the positive benefits the DACA program has provided to its 790,000 DACA recipients and their families. MAF was humbled to have the opportunity to help over thousands of DACA recipients with fee assistance grants to make sure cost didn’t stand in the way of protection. We know DACA is crucial but we wanted to hear about it directly from our clients. We invited them in a survey to:

  • Explain how DACA helped them (442 responses)
  • Share stories about how DACA helped them, their family or their community. (363 responses)
  • Share stories about how the administration’s announcement to end DACA had an impact on them, their family or their community. (379 responses)

60%+ said DACA helped them get better quality jobs

DACA has been instrumental in helping our clients access better professional opportunities, from getting better quality jobs to pursuing career goals and educational opportunities. DACA recipients said they found jobs with better pay and improved working conditions, opened businesses or had fulfilling long-term career opportunities. For example, one client, a 20-year old from Texas, told us how DACA enabled her to get a social security number, opening the door to a career in nursing. DACA has helped me pursue my nursing career. I participated in a CNA program in high school, but after I graduated I was unable to take my test because I did not have a Social Security Number. After being qualified for DACA, I was able to get my CNA license, work as a CNA, and now continue college classes working towards becoming a RN.– 20 year old, Texas

64%  said DACA helped them better support their families

With a median of 4 people to a household, better jobs and educational opportunities mean more stable families. I am the eldest of four children. My father worked odd jobs just to make sure we were stable. After I received DACA, I graduated high school, I got the chance to go to college, and now I have a well paying job to be able to help my father sustain our family. We went from barely getting by to having what we need to a little more and all thanks to DACA.” – 20 year old, California

48% said DACA gave them a greater sense of belonging to the U.S.

It’s no surprise that DACA recipients experience life in the U.S. as both insiders and outsiders – integrated into society to a certain degree but not able to have the same opportunities and privileges as their peers. Receiving legal and workforce protection often helped unlock dreams and goals. DACA gave me more confidence in myself. It showed me that the opportunities are right there, all I have to do is work hard and thrive for what I want to become. DACA is an ally to the undocumented students. Not only do I feel safe with DACA but it also gave me a lot of strength on not giving up, – 19 year old, California

With the threat of losing DACA, clients are very worried about losing everything in their home and having to start over

Hundreds wrote responses about how tangible their losses would be: loss of financial stability, employment, education, peace of mind, or a sense of confidence and belonging. People are worried about how they’d struggle to adapt to culture and learn the language of their country of birth, if they had to leave. 

[infogram id=”1pdzx50qnz651xhmz0wpgrpmqeap12099y”]

Still, many voiced resilience and positivity, expressing confidence in the strength of their communities and certainty that they could find opportunity in what lies ahead, like this 24 year old from California:

“Speaking of all the 800,000 dreams and DACA applicants, we’re not afraid. We don’t give up this easily. We represent the future of this country. We are the U.S. and we are helping this first world nation succeed economically and financially. We’ve worked so hard to be where we stand at this moment. Our parents left everything behind for us to have a better future, a better education, a better life. The decision [to rescind DACA] has made us stronger than ever and it has given us the tool to not stop reaching our goals.”

DACA: 44 States & 70 Countries

In September 2017, MAF launched the nation’s largest DACA fee assistance program serving 7,600 Dreamers across the country. In a series of blog posts, we’ll share information about who we served and what we’re learning about the financial lives of DACA recipients after launching a survey to thousands of DACA clients.

MAF’s DACA fee assistance program supported 1 in 10 DACA recipients in California in fall 2017

When the current administration announced that DACA was ending, MAF pivoted to respond to an urgent need. Within days, we launched a DACA Renewal Fee Assistance program to provide grants of $495 to individuals eligible to renew their DACA work permit by the October 5 deadline. Within 4 weeks, we helped 5,078 DACA Recipients (by January of 2018 that number rose to 7,600). In September and October 2017, we helped nearly 7% of all those who submitted an application to USCIS to renew their DACA – and 1 in 10 DACA recipients who lived in California.

We provided emergency relief to high-need clients: 89% of 2017 DACA fee assistance applicants came from low-income families

Mirroring the national distribution of all DACA recipients, 57% of MAF’s clients who we served in 2017 identify as female and the typical fee assistance recipient was 23 years old. Around 89% of recipients came from low income¹ families; the median annual household income was $24,000 for a household of 4.

Get to know MAF’s 2017 DACA fee assistance recipients:

DACA recipients served came from 44 states and hailed from 71 countries:


Listening to community is crucial to good program design

Even though the DACA fee assistance program was time-limited, we knew that we wanted to continue to build programs to support this community of DACA recipients and their families. In addition to capturing demographic data for each client, we fielded a survey² – in English and Spanish – to all 5,078 fee assistance applicants who applied in 2017 to better understand their emerging needs.

This survey builds on past research and drills down into financial needs and aspirations

Building on past research about DACA recipients conducted by Tom Wong and United We Dream, our survey was designed to ask applicants questions to learn about:

  • How receiving DACA had helped them
  • How our respondents used DACA to support their families
  • Applicants’ top financial concerns for themselves and their families
  • Our respondents’ personal, financial, and career aspirations
  • Applicants’ experience with and feedback on different aspects of MAF’s program

At the end of the 2-week survey period, we received 447 responses for an 8.8% response rate. About 6% of those responses (26 responses) were in Spanish.

In general, our survey respondents closely matched our applicant population, with a few exceptions. Similar to other online surveys of this community, we received higher a survey response rate among females: 63% of people who responded to our survey were female, compared to 57% of MAF’s clients. We also tended to receive more responses from a slightly older age group: 55% of survey respondents were over 23 years old compared to 45% of MAF’s clients.³

Sharing insights means using community voices to move financial services forward

This survey gave us rich insights about our program applicants – their dreams and their fears. In the following blog posts, we will be sharing insights we heard and the data points we collected. We’ve also been using the data to inform our own work. We are excited to share these insights as part of our ongoing strategy to listen to the communities we serve – and share their stories with the partners we work with. In upcoming blog posts, you’ll get to learn more about how our programs are meeting the needs we uncovered through research.

Based on this survey data, we’re launching new programs to help clients access quality employment, pay for immigration-related application fees, and build credit and financial security.


¹ “Low income” here means that the recipient’s household income is below 80% of the Area Median Income for households of the same size in their county. Data for Area Median Income comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2017 database.
² We conducted the survey in October 2017 with a 12-item instrument that included eight closed-ended and four open-ended items. We sent an initial email to all clients and one follow-up email reminder those who hadn’t completed the survey.
³ We are only reporting on statistically significant differences with at least a medium effect size.

MAF Presents at Dreamforce

A conversation with MAF’s Product and Research Manager, Jeremy Jacob, offers a behind the scenes look at Dreamforce 2014

MAF has had a very long and successful history with Salesforce, both as a community and financial partner, so we were excited to participate in several presentations at this year’s Dreamforce conference. One of our sessions was incredibly special, because we gave a first ever public look at our new Salesforce-based Social Loan Platform.

Without Salesforce, we would not have been able to create the Social Loan Platform that creates easy access for Lending Circle clients, and streamlined Lending Circle management for our partners. Salesforce is an integral part of MAF’s network approach to scale.

We wanted to take some time after our busy schedule at Dreamforce to talk to one of the people behind this amazing, unique platform to learn a little more about how this magnificent piece of technology was forged.

After the Dreamforce dust settled we took a moment to sit down with Jeremy Jacob, our Product and Research Manager, to pick his brains about the new Social Loan Platform and how we turned an idea into reality.

How did we first get started with Salesforce?

Back in 2007, MAF was granted 10 free licenses to what, at the time, was a rapidly growing CRM company. The grant was part of this company’s 1:1:1 philanthropy plan of donating 1% of its product, 1% of its equity, and 1% of its time. Early on we saw the potential of this system as not only an internal tool, but rather as an entire platform for our programs. Little did we know at the time that the decision to start using Salesforce on day one would lead us down the path that we’re on today.

While we had been building out our original system, MAF 1.0, Salesforce had also been building out their product. What had started out as a customer management tool had rapidly begun much more than that. It had become a platform that easily allow any organization or business to create customized products and systems with an incredible degree of flexibility and efficacy. So when we started to think abou the next step for MAF, we knew exactly where to look first.

Why did we choose Salesforce as the core of MAF 2.0?

We had several requirements for the next version of MAF’s loan servicing platform. #1 was that it had to be much more than just a loan servicing platform! We needed to build a system that would allow us to efficiently bring Lending Circles to communities across the country. One that would enable us to serve clients from the moment they hear about Lending Circles until the last day of their loan. And one that would be so intuitive that any staff at our partner providers could organize a Lending Circle.

The increadile flexiblity of the platform allowed us to build a product that was intuitive and effortless for all users, from our clients, to our partner providers, to our own internal staff. By building off of the platform, we were able to use a combination of out-of-the box solutions and components, including Conga, Docusign and Cloud Lending’s NEON product, to build a system that would allow us to easily service hundreds of highly customizable social loans a month.

What does the new system allow us to do?

As I said earlier, we needed this system to do more than just service social loans, we had already developed one of those. We wanted a build a system that encompassed all facets of the loan process.

Our new hub for all things Lending Circles,, allows prospective Lending Circle clients to locate a Lending Circle provider in their area on their PC, mobile phone, or tablet and then submit an application. By utilizing Docusign, Clicktools, Conga Composer and Everfi, we’re able to offer online financial education along with a paper-free enrollment process.

Once an applicant applies, the Community Cloud allowed us to easily set up a one stop shop where our partner providers can manage applicants and form Lending Circles. By utilizing VisualForce pages we’re able to create an intuitive and accessible way for any partner providers to easily form Lending Circles and manage their loan portfolios.

Using Salesforce also allows us to streamline our other business processes, from marketing to financial accounting, enabling our internal teams to work more efficiently. This will allow us to bring Lending Circles to more and more clients and partners across the country at the lowest cost possible.

By choosing to build our social loan platform with Salesforce, we were able to build a system that brings Lending Circles to to communities across the country, in turn helping to create a fair financial marketplace for all hardworking families.

Social loans enable affordable credit

How do social loans help people get a better deal? By giving them a chance to build on what they have.

As a recent college grad myself, I know that just because I have a credit score doesn’t mean it’s a good one. In fact, many of my peers and I are learning that having a good credit score translates into direct savings in our pockets as we start thinking about financing larger purchases and investments. It turns out that the majority of MAF’s clients who take out one of our social loans actually start with much lower (or nonexistent) credit scores than the nation as a whole, meaning that if they have access to loan products their paying a lot for them. That’s because, for people with low credit scores or very limited credit histories, even a small positive change can have a large impact on the interest rates for important lines of credit such as car loans, mortgages, and even credit cards.

A credit score doesn’t just determine if you get approved for a credit card, but also how much interest you pay.

Most of our clients start with credit scores below the national distribution. As we can see in the chart below, the median credit score of one of our members is around 650, while the national median is somewhere closer to 720. That translates into much higher borrowing costs for our participants.

Our programs include both access to social loans as well as financial management training, which helps enable people to take the first step in towards gaining access to more affordable credit. Often lack of or low credit gets talked about in terms of lack of  access. It’s true that if you don’t either don’t have a score or have a very low score you won’t have access to the same type of financial products as those with established histories. But even if those with nonexistent or poor credit who do have access to these products will pay substantially more for them. I’ve laid out how much you’d be expected to pay for various loan products depending on your credit score in the infographic below:

By making positive payments on their social loans, participants are improving their credit one step at a time. A higher credit score means lower borrowing costs for debt. If  hard-working people with limited or damaged credit want a chance at avoiding sub-prime rates, then using low-cost financial products like a social loan, paying back loans on time, and saving are all great places to start.

Remember, responsible low-cost credit (like social loans) builds responsible, reputable borrowers!

Pablo: Aspiring Filmmaker

After participating in Lending Circles and Financial Education, Pablo figured out how to navigate the US financial system

When Pablo moved to San Francisco 11 years ago from Columbia, he discovered that just because he had no debt, it didn’t mean he would have it easy in building a new life. But without a credit history, he had no score. After joining a Lending Circle and taking financial education classes at MAF, he learned about navigating the U.S. financial system and that to improve his score, he needed to take on affordable debt and pay it off on time. He used his loan towards paying for college and investing in his future career. A Political Science and Journalism student, Pablo is working on his first feature film on the 2014 World Cup qualification process in Brazil.

“Mission Asset Fund gave me really good tools to manage my money.”

“Mission Asset Fund gave me really good tools to manage my money. I’ve had two years without having to work in a restaurant thanks to the things I’ve learned from Mission Asset Fund. I’ve been in school and have been dedicating my time to finish my degree.”

A truly enthusiastic participant, Pablo is always recruiting his friends to join Lending Circles and take advantage of the opportunity to learn more. He has also joined a Lending Circles for Citizenship with MAF to finance another dream: becoming a citizen.

Helen: A Mom with a Dream

Helen came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream– to rent her own apartment

Helen is a single mom who came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream– to rent her own apartment. An immigrant from Guatemala, Helen was an unbanked mother of two small children. Because she couldn’t afford the security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, Helen was forced to rent rooms in three different apartments over the course of a year. Some apartments were so full that hallways were turned into bedrooms. Riddled with excessive moisture and mold, these apartments left Helen’s daughter with a persistent cough.

Because she couldn’t afford the security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, Helen was forced to rent rooms in three different apartments over the course of a year.

While working part-time at local nonprofits, Helen continued her search for a stable apartment for her children. In May 2011, she joined a Lending Circle to build her credit and save for a deposit. Helen’s mom unexpectedly fell ill, so Helen decided to send the money home to help her get the eye surgery she needed. A year later, with financial management training and $4,100 in zero-interest credit-building loans, a Helen emerged with a new credit score of 673. Now, she has her own apartment for her family and even bigger dreams.

Veronica: A Visionary Restaurateur

Veronica reached her dream of owning a restaurant after participating in a Lending Circle.

An immigrant from Mexico, Veronica came to Mission Asset Fund with a dream of owning a restaurant to serve her Mexico City favorites: gorditas, huitlacoche, huaraches, and pozole. With ingenuity and help from a local food entrepreneur incubator program, Veronica’s business grew from small time catering to a traveling food truck. She even won a developer’s contest for a new storefront space. But without a credit score, Veronica could not qualify for the business loans she needed to supply her new restaurant.

But without a credit score, Veronica could not qualify for the business loans she needed to supply her new restaurant.

After joining the Lending Circles program, Veronica was able to pay down her debt and invest in her business. After two years of financial classes and zero-interest credit-building loans, she raised her credit score to 615. This enabled her to qualify for new lines of credit from wholesale suppliers to further invest in her business. Now, Veronica has 20 employees working with her at her new restaurant in Marin County, El Huarache Loco. Please check out Veronica’s new restaurant to enjoy her delicious food!

Lending Circle Program Evaluation Released

At MAF, we’re all about understanding the impact of our work in the communities that use our products.

Over the years, we have seen hundreds of people who have been on the margins of the financial mainstream walk through our doors looking for a way to help themselves navigate the world of finance by joining a Lending Circle. While witnessing these lives transformed by a Lending Circle has made us believers, it’s often been difficult to communicate these diverse impacts to the world. We know that a Lending Circle can help people achieve their financial goals, and but we needed the numbers to prove it. That’s why we had independent evaluators at San Francisco State University’s Cesar Chavez Institute study the impact of a Lending Circle on credit improvement among more than 600 participants in five Bay Area communities over two years. We learned that:

1) Pairing the Lending Circle program with financial education is a great model for increasing the financial capability of low-income consumers nationwide.

  • Average increase in credit score post-Lending Circle: 168 points
  • Average reduction in debt per participant post-Lending Circle: $1,000 
  • Average credit score post-Lending Circle: 603

2) Our Lending Circle model works with different non-profit partners.

In their second report, the researchers found that the Lending Circle program has similar results with a wide range of communities and organizations, including recent Chinese immigrants offered the program though The Chinese Newcomers Service Center  and the LGBT community offered the program through The SF LGBT Center, demonstrating its wide appeal.

  • Participating in financial education increases credit scores by an additional 27 points
  • Community-based non-profit organizations are an ideal vehicle for implementing the Lending Circle program

With the results from these two reports, we’re able to effectively communicate the impact of our work to the world. We’re finally able to prove that a little idea that started 5 years ago in the Mission is can make a huge difference in the financial lives of hardworking families.

For more in-depth insights, be sure to check out the full reports.

A special thanks to the Ford Foundation, Center for Financial Services Innovation, and Citi Community Development for supporting our work!