Tag: Building Credit

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.

Luis and Zenaida: A family of chefs

An exhausting work schedule motivated Luis and Zenaida to envision a different future for themselves. Lending Circles helped them get there.

Zenaida and Luis reacted differently when they found out Zenaida was pregnant. While Luis shed joyful tears, Zenaida worried about morning sickness.

“But everything happened to Luis. He was sleepy, he was tired, he was sick – I was fine!” she said.

The spunky thirty-something couple from El Salvador had very different experiences with their fathers.  Luis never really knew his dad, while Zenaida still feels the sting of her father’s passing three years ago.

“I was very close to my father and I wanted the same for Luis and Mateo,” she said.

In 2012, Luis found himself working brutal hours with little time left over for his son, Mateo.  He often worked 14-hour days juggling two jobs as a chef.  Zenaida knew it was just a matter of time before he just couldn’t stand it anymore.

A new business idea

So, the couple started their own business, D’maize Catering, in hopes of spending more time together as a family. They quickly learned that they needed credit to take on bigger orders. But, Zenaida had no credit history because she always paid bills in cash.

Zenaida joined a Lending Circle and established a credit score for the first time, an impressive 750! She qualified for a small loan to invest in a car for the business and plans to apply for more to invest in a commercial kitchen and a home for her family.

Now, the couple has 8 employees and regularly cater events for Silicon Valley companies like Foursquare and at food festivals in San Francisco. They continue to be inspired by their son, Mateo, who also wants to be a chef when he grows up.

“Everyone has a dream, but sometimes you need help,” Luis said. “We’re not special. We did it with help from our community.”

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!

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