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Innovations: Making the Invisible Visible


CEO Jose Quinonez gives a behind-the-scenes look into MAF’s origin story in MIT Press’s “Innovations” journal.

The following excerpt was originally published in “Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization,” a journal published by MIT Press. Read the full essay here.

I was 20 years old when I realized that my mother had died because we were poor.

She passed away when I was nine, too young to understand the complex and dangerous nature of life in poverty. At that time, I had to muster everything inside of me just to survive the avalanche of sorrow and change in our family life.

It was only as an adult that I came to terms with my painful childhood. I see it now as the source of the deep empathy I have for people who suffer and struggle in the world.

That is why I’ve dedicated my life to working against poverty.

And it is how I became the founding CEO of Mission Asset Fund (MAF), a nonprofit organization that strives to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families. When I joined MAF in 2007, the organization was a nonprofit start-up with plans to help low-income immigrants in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Eight years later, MAF is nationally recognized for developing Lending Circles, a social loan program based on people coming together to lend and borrow money. With cutting-edge technology, we transformed this invisible practice into a force for good.

Program participants are freeing themselves from the grasp of predatory lenders by opening bank accounts, building credit histories, paying down high-cost debt, and increasing their savings. They are investing in businesses, buying homes, and saving for a better future.

Lending Circles brings to light what’s already good in people’s lives.

And within that light, participants are forging a sure path into the financial mainstream, unlocking their true economic potential every step of the way. The program’s success is serving as a model in the fight against poverty, demonstrating new and effective ways of helping low-income people without belittling them in the process.

This is the behind-the-scenes story of how we made this happen.

Passionate Leaders & Product Experts: Meet Our New Board Members


Introducing MAF’s new board members: Dave Krimm, Salvador Torres & Stephan Waldstrom

Earlier this year, MAF had the pleasure of welcoming three new members to our Board of Directors. Read on to find out who they are, where they’re from, and what inspired them to join the board — from the cutting-edge technology driving Lending Circles to our innovative model for building financial capability.

Meet Dave

Dave Krimm is a seasoned financial services professional, with a passion for the “positive impact of microlending: the difference that a small loan can make in an individual’s or a family’s success.” His experience working as a financial product development consultant and leading fundraising and marketing at the San Francisco Foundation make the MAF Board a perfect match for Dave.

Dave is no stranger to nonprofit boards.

Most recently he served as Chair of the Opportunity Fund Board in San Jose, California, where he helped oversee an exciting period of growth for the organization. Now, he’s eager to bring his talents to a nonprofit rooted in his home of San Francisco. When asked what he’s most excited about in his new role, Dave shared that, “I’m looking forward to strengthening MAF’s ‘support team’ on the Board, to match the broadening impact of MAF’s programs locally and the expansion of our nationwide network.”

Meet Salvador

Salvador Torres is well acquainted with the informal lending and borrowing that happens on the margins, and he’s eager to uplift MAF’s work making the invisible, visible. Salvador shared that, “My family members have used lending circles to share resources, but they rarely went beyond close family ties and didn’t help build credit. Now with MAF’s Lending Circle products and partners, people around country are able to access capital and build the credit necessary to transition into the financial mainstream.”

He knows just how crucial financial health is for building strong, resilient communities.

Salvador spends his days working in Washington, D.C., as an investment banker and consultant at Penserra and 32Advisors, where he helps companies build growth strategies. He’s also served as an Advisory Board Member of the Posse Foundation, a college access organization, where he saw firsthand how close-knit social circles — “posses” — could transform the lives of students and their communities.

Meet Stephan

Stephan Waldstrom hails from Belgium (via Denmark), and is the Director of Risk and Product Development at RPX Corporation, a risk management company based in San Francisco.

Stephan is passionate about all things product development.

And he’s ready to use that passion to give back to his community. Stephan believes that “MAF has found a simple yet powerful model that can significantly improve the financial security of its members and potentially countless people across the U.S.” A product guru at heart, Stephan is excited to get his hands dirty helping MAF develop the first-ever Lending Circles mobile app, a new tool that will connect clients with on-demand loan information. In addition to his Board seat, Stephan is lending his expertise as a member of MAF’s Technology Advisory Council — which helps guide the design of the technology that powers MAF’s programs.

We’re happy to welcome Dave, Salvador, and Stephan to MAF’s board.

And we’re grateful to them for sharing their collective skills and talents to as we chart new courses — from the mobile app, to our Lending Circles Summit, to new research shaping our understanding of financial health. Adelante!

Honored with the Bullard Award by Princeton’s Wilson School


On April 9, the Students & Alumni of Color at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School honored me with the Edward P. Bullard Award. I was deeply grateful, and shared this message with my peers.

Thank you so very much. It means a great deal to me to receive this award.

I remember organizing the 2nd symposium back in 1996.

The number of attendees at that event may not have been as great as today’s. But I remember feeling the same energy and excitement over the wonderful opportunity to step back from our busy student lives and meet with alumni – to hear their stories, to learn from their experiences, and to gain some perspective about our own experiences here at the Wilson School.

And now we’re here, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Students and Alumni of Color coming together. And for that we owe Ed Bullard and Jeffrey Prieto and John Templeton and all the MPA students who organized these weekends a great deal of gratitude for their vision and hard work that got us here today.

Soon after I got the call from Renato Rocha and Gilbert Collins about the Bullard Award, I reflected back on my experiences here and how they shaped my career and ultimately my life.

Thankfully, I was able to forget all the painful and sleepless nights from working on econ problem sets or writing five-page policy memos or cramming for this or that exam. I’m really super thankful that my brain was able to erase all those memories so that I could focus on all the good stuff.

I’m sure all alumni in this room can say the same, right? Well, fine — I’ll speak for myself.

But earlier today I walked into a Bowl downstairs – and for the first time I did not get nervous. My heart rate didn’t go wacky, my leg didn’t get restless. Really. After 20 years I was able to just sit back and enjoy being here at Princeton. (Yeah. It took me that long to get over it.)

Thinking back on my life, I was able to trace much of my current work at the Mission Asset Fund to what I learned here at the Wilson School.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt, for example, he opened my eyes to the horrific injustices of people falling prey to predatory lenders in the financial marketplace. His class was about financial management, which was a little boring and dry. But in his subtle way, he would insert stories in his lectures about how lenders manipulate loan terms to load borrowers with extra fees and costs. I remember feeling disgusted over how easy it was to rip people off – and angry that lenders could get away with taking people’s hard-earned money with impunity.

Reinhardt’s stories allowed me to see finances not as dull but rather as a social justice issue that could materially improve people’s lives.

And there’s Professor Alejandro Portes. He taught me a very important lesson, one that is actually the cornerstone of Lending Circles, a program that we offer at the Mission Asset Fund to help hardworking families build and improve their credit.

Portes taught me to see and appreciate the incredible economic activity that happens informally.

We see it all over the world. The street vendor selling tamales on busy street corners. Or the day laborer working odd jobs.

He showed us that what the street vendors do, the economic activity they generate in the informal economy – while invisible, it is still very similar to the economic activity that happens in the formal economy. It’s not less than, not criminal, not inferior, but the same – with the only difference being that economic activities in the formal economy have laws and regulations to protect and secure and make them visible to the broader economic systems.

I used this idea to create Lending Circles.

Our clients – largely unbanked, low-income Latino immigrants – have a time-honored tradition of coming together in groups to lend and borrow money from each other. In Mexico, these are known as tandas or cundinas, and they go by many, many different names throughout the world. These loans are informal, based largely on trust.

But nobody really knows about them except the people involved. Nobody knows that participants actually pay these obligations first, before anything else. Really, the financial industry has never appreciated the fact that tandas are a phenomenal financial vehicle – helping participants manage the intense income fluctuations in their lives.

Why is that? Because tandas are informal, taking place outside of the financial systems.

They’re invisible. But at MAF, we changed that.

We created a process to make this activity visible by getting people to sign promissory notes, allowing us to service loans and report payment activity to the main credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. And thereby we’re helping our clients start a credit history and improve their credit scores.

The program works. In 2014, Gov. Brown in California signed a law recognizing lending circles as a force for good. So, as you can imagine — and I can say this in this room of full of fellow policy folks – getting a bill enacted into law is pretty cool. I was excited.

I was proud of myself for getting this done!

I was flying high as a kite when this happened. But In time I realized that this achievement was no accident. You see, I’m the product of the Public Policy & International Affairs (PPIA) program, a program dedicated to increasing the number of students of color in public service.

I did my Junior Summer Institute here, at the Wilson School in 1994. And because of that experience and support and people I met, I was able to see myself here at the School as a full time student, getting an MPA, and building a career in public service.

It was no accident. I’m doing exactly what this program was designed to accomplish.

Through the years, the PPIA program has built an incredible cadre of professionals of color, working in public service. It’s wonderful. We can see it in this room right now. Look around.

It’s incredible to see a room full of beautiful and talented and passionate people dedicating their careers – their lives – to public service. Half of MPA students of color come through the PPIA pipeline.

But when you consider the enormous problems we face as a nation: from the lack of public trust in our institutions and leaders; to the appalling inequalities from wealth to income to educational opportunities; to the disenfranchisement of millions of people from electoral process; to the devastating effects of climate change… well, you know we can go on for hours listing all the issues we face as a nation.

The point is that there are not enough professionals of color in public service confronting these issues.

I look around this room and I’m amazed with everyone here. But frankly, I don’t think that there’s enough of us. There is simply not enough people in the trenches that come with different perspectives, different ideas, different life experiences that can add significant insights to solutions to our nation’s problems. The number of people in this room, quite frankly, should be double or triple.

While I love that the Wilson School has made these weekends a tradition. I think the time has come for the School to do more. The status quo is simply not acceptable anymore. We need to double down and widen the pipeline. We need more students of color getting exposed to careers in public service. We need more students graduating with MPAs. We need more professionals of color working to create the America we deserve.

As you know, the urgency on this issue is not new.

Many times, we’d talked about diversity and inclusion and getting more students of color in this School. But to me it hit home last June. I was getting ready for work the morning of June 18, listening to the news about the horrific massacre of nine people in Charleston South Carolina. The shooting happened the day before, during an evening prayer service at the AME Church.

The senior pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney was among those killed. I was stunned.

Rev. Pinckney was a PPIA fellow – we did the Junior Summer Institute program together. He went on to become a State Representative in South Carolina, and later State Senator. He was only 41 years old when he was killed. He did so much at such a young age. Apparently, he was shot dead to ignite a race war. But his death was the impetus that finally took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina, that shameful symbol of racists.

While in the Bowl earlier today, I looked over to where Clem use to sit, remembering his easy smile and deep voice. We spent 10 grueling weeks in those bowls over the summer of 1994. And just thinking of him there, in that room, for at least a moment, it brought me hope. Hope that our lives’ work in this world can be truly consequential.

We need to remember Clem and honor his life.

In my view, he is a true example of what it means to live life in the Nation’s Service. America needs more people like Clem. And I believe the Wilson School has the responsibility and obligation to do more to find and train the Clementas of the world so that we can have a real shot at solving our nation’s problems.

Thank you.

Photographs by: Katherine Elgin Photography

Policy Must Uplift People’s Strengths, Not Criticize Their Character


A recent article from sociologist Philip N. Cohen underscores the importance of policies that respect the dignity & strengths of the families we serve.

Last week Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and senior scholar with the Council on Contemporary Families, published an article in the Washington Post arguing that “American policy fails at reducing child poverty because it aims to fix the poor.”

The headline grabbed my attention.

It succinctly captured what decades of work with low-income communities have taught me: We don’t need saviors to teach poor people the right morals. We need advocates to recognize and cultivate their strengths so that they move out of poverty themselves.

Current anti-poverty policies that aim to fix them, actually work against them.

Cohen’s piece scrutinizes this current approach, and dispenses with it. He challenges the motives, logic, and outcomes of anti-poverty policies that pressure poor parents to get married or find jobs as a precondition for government assistance:

We know growing up poor is bad for kids. But instead of focusing on the money, U.S. anti-poverty policy often focuses on the perceived moral shortcomings of the poor themselves. … Specifically, we offer two choices to poor parents if they want to escape poverty: get a job, or get married. Not only does this approach not work, but it’s also a cruel punishment for children who cannot be held responsible for their parents’ decisions.

Tax benefits like the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit are reserved for those able to find and hold a job, which can be all but impossible for people struggling to care for young children or older parents and people with disabilities that make it difficult to work. Welfare payments are restricted by work requirements and time limits that leave millions of families out.

Other past, present, and proposed anti-poverty policies are designed to incentivize marriage, effectively penalizing parents who choose not to marry – a choice that everyone, rich or poor, should be able to make freely.

Policies like these fail to treat poor people with the respect they deserve.

And they fail to provide solutions that work for all families. Cohen proposes simpler alternatives, programs that serve all parents equally and offer poor families a leg up without imposing moral judgments on their individual decisions and needs.

This brings us to a broader lesson that all of us – policymakers, nonprofit leaders, community members – can learn from: We must meet people where they are, respect what they bring to the table, and build on the strengths they have.

This approach is not a pipe dream. I see it work every day with Lending Circles.

MAF’s social loan programs begin from a position of respect, acknowledging and valuing the rich resources and financial savvy that our clients already possess. We then build on those strengths by integrating their positive behaviors and informal practices into the mainstream financial marketplace.

Poor people are not broken. They have strengths that we too often fail to recognize.

Rather than judging their behavior and imposing our own values on them, we must treat them with dignity and seek out solutions that work for everyone, whatever their background, abilities – or marital status.

Lending Circles Coming to More Los Angeles Communities


MAF is inviting Los Angeles nonprofit organizations to apply to become Lending Circles social loan providers.

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today announces the Build a Better Los Angeles initiative to expand Lending Circles in Los Angeles. Dynamic nonprofit organizations are invited to to apply to join MAF’s national network of 50+ Lending Circles providers through a special application process. This initiative is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation.

MAF’s award-winning Lending Circles are a fresh take on social lending, helping participants safely build credit while increasing assets and improving financial health. The average credit score increase for participants is 168 points.

“We are proud to partner with MAF to help more Los Angeles households improve their financial health,” said Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Financial Capability, JPMorgan Chase. “Lending Circles help families achieve their financial goals through regular savings and affordable credit building. Families are using lending circles to start businesses, save for college, and buy a home. The benefits do not stop with them but extend to their communities and the broader economy.”

According to a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 45 million adults in the U.S. are invisible to credit markets, making them unable to access affordable credit. Los Angeles has one of the highest unbanked rates in California at 17%, compared to 8% for the state overall. “Without credit scores, people must turn to payday lenders to start a business or get a small-dollar loan,” said Jose A. Quinonez, CEO of MAF. “Lending Circles give people the tools to build credit and enter the financial mainstream.”

“The Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation is proud to support Mission Asset Fund’s efforts to build vibrant, economically secure communities in the Los Angeles area through its innovative Lending Circles program. It’s with great pleasure that we support the Build a Better L.A. campaign, which will connect even more low-income Californians with pathways to the financial mainstream,” said Sylia Obagi, Executive Director.

To learn more about the Build a Better Los Angeles initiative or apply to become a Lending Circles provider today, please visit the Request for Proposals here. Selected organizations can gain access to subsidized training costs, training from MAF staff, and on-demand access to an exclusive social loan platform. Applications are due March 18th and new providers will be announced on April 29th. Applicants must be 501c(3) organizations located in the greater Los Angeles area including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Interested organizations are encouraged to register for an in-person information session on February 26th at 10:30am at the ImpactHub LA to learn more. Register today to reserve your spot.

Join Us for an Info Session
Date: February 26th
Time: 10:30 am
Location: ImpactHub LA

About Mission Asset Fund

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to helping financially excluded communities – namely, low-income and immigrant families – gain access to mainstream financial services. Learn more at missionassetfund.org and lendingcircles.org.

Southwest Solutions & JPMorgan Bring Lending Circles to Detroit


Southwest Solutions, JPMorgan Chase & MAF launch peer Lending Circles to boost credit scores of Detroit residents.

Southwest Solutions, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Mission Asset Fund (MAF) today announced the launch of Lending Circles, a new social loan program that will allow Detroit residents to safely build credit through zero-interest loans. Participants make monthly loan payments and take turns receiving zero-interest social loans, ranging from $300 to $2,500. All loan payments are reported to credit bureaus, enabling participants to build a credit history, raise credit scores and work towards greater financial stability.

MAF’s award-winning Lending Circles are a fresh take on social lending, helping participants build credit while increasing assets and improving financial health. The average credit score increase for participants is 168 points. “More than 30% of the people we’ve assisted with their financial situation in the last two years start with no credit history, and those with credit start with an average credit score of only 547,” said Hector Hernandez, executive director of Southwest Economic Solutions. “Lending Circles will enable our clients to build and enhance their credit so they can take advantage of opportunities to become homeowners, entrepreneurs and college graduates.”

Bringing Lending Circles to Detroit is the next step in JPMorgan Chase’s $ 100 million commitment to Detroit’s economic recovery. JPMorgan Chase recently awarded MAF a $1.5 million, three-year grant to expand Lending Circles to even more communities across the country and develop new technology to connect clients with on-demand loan information. Southwest Solutions is part of a growing network of 53 Lending Circles providers – and the first in the state of Michigan.

“We are proud to partner with Southwest Solutions and Mission Asset Fund to expand Lending Circles to Detroit,” said Colleen Briggs, Program Officer, Financial Capability Initiatives, JPMorgan Chase. “Building a solid credit score is the critical first step to managing daily financial lives and accessing affordable capital to achieve long-term financial goals, such as purchasing a home or starting a business.”

Of the 27 zip codes in the City of Detroit, the median credit score among residents is below 600 in all but one, according to Urban Institute tabulations of credit bureau data. Furthermore, a 2015 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that one in four Detroit households are “underbanked.” Without sufficient access to checking or savings accounts, Detroit residents often turn to payday lenders and check cashers to meet their basic financial needs.

“Without credit scores, there are no ‘good options’ when you want to start a business or get a small loan,” said Jose A. Quinonez, CEO, MAF. “Now, with the support of JPMorgan Chase and partners like Southwest Solutions, we are working together to provide innovative solutions to help Detroit residents succeed.”


About Southwest Solutions

For more than 40 years, Southwest Solutions has pursued its mission to help build a stronger and healthier community in southwest Detroit and beyond. The nonprofit organization provides more 50 programs and partnerships in the areas of human development, economic development and resident engagement. These three areas together form a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization effort that helps more than 20,000 a year. For more information, please visit www.swsol.org.


About JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) is a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.4 trillion and operations worldwide. The Firm is a leader in investment banking, financial services for consumers and small businesses, commercial banking, financial transaction processing, and asset management. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, JPMorgan Chase & Co. serves millions of consumers in the United States and many of the world’s most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients under its J.P. Morgan and Chase brands. The firm uses its global resources, expertise, insights and scale to address some of the most urgent challenges facing communities around the world including the need for increased economic opportunity. Information about JPMorgan Chase & Co. is available at www.jpmorganchase.com.

About Mission Asset Fund

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to helping financially excluded communities – namely, low-income and immigrant families – gain access to mainstream financial services. Learn more at missionassetfund.org and lendingcircles.org.

Time to Reflect & Refresh: Announcing My Sabbatical


Jose Quiñonez, CEO of MAF, announces a three-month sabbatical, sponsored by O2 Initiatives.

I’m taking a sabbatical!

Thanks to a generous grant from O2 Initiatives, I start a three-month sabbatical on December 21st. Since 2007, I’ve had the privilege of building MAF from a neighborhood nonprofit into an organization with a national network of 53 nonprofit partners, providing Lending Circles across 18 states. After overcoming many challenges and achieving much success through the years, I feel that now is the time to take a step back and reflect on all we’ve accomplished — and to envision what’s next for MAF as we continue to uplift credit-building as a force for good, forge new partnerships, and expand to new communities.

I am ever grateful to O2 Initiatives for providing me with the gift of time to reflect and refresh.

Over the next three months, I look forward to traveling and spending time with my family, reconnecting with old friends, and reading hardcover books. I have a stack of books on my nightstand just waiting to be picked up. I can’t wait thumb through their pages.

During my absence, MAF’s Chief Operating Officer Daniela Salas will take the helm as Acting CEO.

Daniela has been a critical force behind MAF’s success since our founding, and I have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead the organization as it embarks on an ambitious plan for 2016. We will continue to move our research agenda forward by studying the impact of Lending Circles on consumers’ financial well-being; we will break new ground in developing technology for our clients to have awesome experiences with Lending Circles; and we will go the extra mile to ensure that our partners have the right tools and training to successfully implement Lending Circles in their communities.

I look forward to returning to my role as CEO in April 2016.

With renewed energy, we’ll continue to build on what’s good and forge ahead in our fight against poverty. Onwards!

What It’s Worth: MAF Featured in New Book


Read CEO Jose Quinonez’s essay “Latinos in the Financial Shadows” in a new book on economic well-being.

Earlier this year I was invited to contribute MAF’s perspective to a joint publication from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), with the support of the Citi Foundation. The resulting book, titled What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities and the Nation, is a collection of more than 30 essays that document the financial health and stability of Americans across the country. The authors put forth promising strategies for improving economic security and mobility in low-income and underserved populations.

My piece “Latinos in the Financial Shadows” highlights the informal lending practices common among immigrant communities, documenting the important role they play in the lives of people operating outside the financial mainstream. It reviews MAF’s strategy for formalizing these informal financial relationships through our Lending Circles program and attests to the impact of our work.

The essay also introduces the Hierarchy for Financial Needs (HFN), MAF’s new model for identifying and assessing the key components of an individual’s financial well-being. The HFN provides a ground-breaking and much-needed framework to help policymakers, practitioners and others working to improve consumers’ financial stability and mobility evaluate their impact more holistically, placing the work in the larger context of economic health.

To download a PDF of “Latinos in the Financial Shadows,” click here. To order a free copy of the What It’s Worth book, visit the Strong Financial Future website.

$1.5M Chase Grant Takes MAF to Next Level


JPMorgan Chase invests $1.5 million in MAF to expand Lending Circles further, faster.

I’m thrilled to announce that JPMorgan Chase recently awarded MAF a $1.5 million, three-year grant to expand our signature Lending Circles program even further across the U.S. JPMorgan Chase is leading the financial capability field by making significant, long-term grants to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations at the forefront of providing meaningful services to consumers in the financial shadows.

We are grateful for their generous grant, which will allow MAF to bring lasting and positive impact to people’s financial lives by expanding our zero-interest Lending Circles across the country. Our work with JPMorgan Chase gives us great confidence as we prepare to scale this model to low-income communities throughout the country.

MAF is on track to more than double our network of Lending Circles providers over the next three years, building a critical mass of partners in key regions across the country: from New York, Chicago, and Miami, to Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. We’ll also develop new technology to connect Lending Circles participants with on-demand loan information.

To you, our friends and colleagues, thank you for supporting us in this exciting time of growth. We can’t wait to share stories from the thousands of parents, students, and entrepreneurs working hard to build more secure financial futures thanks to this grant.

New Lending Circles Program in DC Area

Lending Circles to Debut in Washington, D.C. to Help Individuals and Entrepreneurs Build Credit


Latino Economic Development Center and Northern Virginia Family Service launch peer-to-peer lending program in partnership with MAF and Capital One

Washington, D.C. – July 8, 2015Latino Economic Development Center and Northern Virginia Family Service today announced the launch of DMV Lending Circles, a new peer-to-peer lending program in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, through a partnership with MAF that helps low-income Hispanic communities safely build credit with zero-interest loans. Loan payments made through Lending Circles are reported to credit bureaus, and the average credit score increase for participants is 168 points.

Lending Circles draws on the immigrant tradition of peer borrowing to empower members of communities to support one another. Participants make monthly loan payments and take turns receiving zero-interest social loans ranging from $500 to $2,500. All loan payments are reported to credit bureaus, enabling participants to build a credit history, raise credit scores and work towards greater financial stability.

“LEDC’s asset-building programs around homeownership and entrepreneurship are most successful when clients start with a solid credit history,” said Marla Bilonick, executive director, LEDC. “We were so excited to be selected by MAF to provide Lending Circles to DC area clients because credit-building is a critical piece for achieving financial empowerment and building wealth. Lending Circles give LEDC another tool to help our clients improve their financial well-being and fulfill their dreams.”

“Our clients are hardworking, extraordinarily motivated entrepreneurs. The NVFS Escala Program simply provides them with the missing skills and information to help them overcome barriers that many low-income immigrants face when starting a business,” said Adrienne Kay, Escala program manager, NVFS. “One of those barriers is credit and access to capital, and we are thrilled that through our partnership with MAF, our clients will access affordable loans, build credit history, and prepare for a financially stable future.”

According to a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), one in every 10 adults does not have any credit history with a nationwide consumer reporting agency, making it incredibly challenging for them to do anything that requires a credit score, including getting an education, starting a business, renting a car or buying a home. This same report found that Hispanic consumers and consumers in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to have no credit history or not enough current credit history to produce a credit score.

 “Without credit scores, there are no ‘good options’ when you want to start a business or get a small loan,” said Jose A. Quinonez, CEO, MAF. “Now, with the support of Capital One and partners like LEDC and NVFS, together we are providing a solution that works right here in the nation’s capital.”

LEDC, NVFS, MAF and Capital One will celebrate the launch of Lending Circles at an event taking place on July 8th at WeWork’s offices in Washington, D.C., where DMV Lending Circle members will speak about their experience and success with the program.

“Having a strong credit history is essential for individuals to thrive in today’s economy and ensure their financial well-being,” said Daniel Delehanty, Senior Director, Community Development Banking, Capital One. “As Greater Washington’s hometown bank, Capital One is proud to partner with LEDC and NVFS and support the regional expansion of Lending Circles, leveraging technology, credit reporting and MAF’s proven track record of harnessing the power of community to have a positive impact on individual economic success and stability.”

In addition, as part of their Building Entrepreneurial Economies program, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with NVFS to further the expansion of Lending Circles in Virginia, with a particular emphasis on Prince William County.

For more information on Lending Circles, please visit lendingcircles.org


About MAF and Lending Circles

MAF is a San Francisco-based nonprofit on a mission to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families. Its social loan program, Lending Circles, helps hardworking families access a zero-interest loan, receive financial education, and start building a credit history safely and effectively. People around the world lend and borrow with each other when bank loans aren’t an option. With technology and credit reporting, Lending Circles transforms this traditional practice to help borrowers access affordable loans, build credit history, and build financial stability. Social loan programs have demonstrated their ability to help people open bank accounts, avoid predatory lenders, and quickly and safely build their credit history. Lending Circles provides a safe and reliable way for hard working families to save money, pay down high cost debt, and break free of predatory lenders, while building the credit they need to thrive. For more information about MAF, visit: missionassetfund.org or lendingcircles.org.

About the Latino Economic Development Center

The Latino Economic Development Corporation/Center (LEDC) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in 1991 in response to civil disturbances in the Mount Pleasant community. For 24 years, we have delivered comprehensive community and economic development services to build the capacity of DC area Latino and other underserved families. LEDC’s mission is to drive the economic and social advancement of low- to moderate- income Latinos and other D.C. area residents by equipping them with the skills and tools to achieve financial independence and become leaders in their communities. LEDC achieves its mission through four key service areas: small business development, microlending, affordable housing preservation; and homeownership and foreclosure counseling. We operate out of our Headquarters in Washington, DC and two satellite offices in Wheaton and Baltimore, Maryland.

About Escala

Escala, Northern Virginia Family Service’s Small Business Program for entrepreneurs, provides one-on-one small business development consulting and coursework to low- and mid-income families living in Northern Virginia. The program aims to assist clients in overcoming barriers to launch and grow sustainable businesses that increase household incomes, create jobs, and contribute to the local economy.

About Capital One

Capital One Financial Corporation, headquartered in McLean, Virginia, is a Fortune 500 company with branch locations primarily in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Its subsidiaries, Capital One, N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. As part of its ongoing commitment to communities across the country, Capital One recently launched Future Edge, a $150 million commitment to empower more Americans to succeed in a digitally-driven economy through community grants and initiatives over the next five years. To learn more about Future Edge and other Capital One initiatives please visit

www.capitaloneinvestingforgood.com.