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Lessons from Immigrant Families Left out of Federal Relief

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Lessons from Immigrant Families Left out of Federal Relief

Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the financial lives of immigrant families. Through no fault of their own, millions of immigrants lost jobs and income they relied on to support their families, forcing them to deplete what little savings they had or extend credit just to survive. In their time of greatest need, Congress excluded 11 million immigrants and their families from emergency stimulus checks and a desperately-needed financial lifeline.

In an effort to help those left behind, MAF launched the Immigrant Families Fund (IFF) to provide unrestricted cash grants to people excluded from federal relief. Since launching the IFF in April 2020, MAF has received over 196,000 applications for support. Overwhelmed with requests for help, we designed a financial equity framework to determine who could benefit the most from a one-time grant, prioritizing applicants with the fewest income sources and most financial strains. By placing financial equity front and center, MAF has provided 39,000 grants to families with the greatest need.*

In October 2020, MAF conducted a survey to learn how the pandemic and economic crisis impacted those left behind, collecting detailed information from 11,677 grant recipients. Now, drawing on what is the largest national survey of immigrants left out of federal relief, we report on the deep financial pain immigrants are facing, the strategies they are using to weather the crisis, and the cost of exclusion from a safety net that continues to leave people behind.

*MAF continues to disburse grants to immigrant families on a rolling basis. You can track applications and grants awarded dito.

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Webinar: The Financial Devastation of Immigrant Families in the Age of COVID-19

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Insights #1: COVID-19’s Impact on Immigrant Families

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Insights #2: Policies Matter – A Look at Immigrants in CA and TX

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Rapid Response Insights Series: COVID-19’s Impact on CA College Students

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Epekto ng COVID-19 sa Mga Estudyante ng CA Public College

Sa ilang mga araw, ang pandamdam ng COVID-19 ay umangat sa buhay ng milyon-milyon. Habang ang mga kolehiyo at unibersidad ay nagsara ng mga kampus, ang mga mag-aaral ay biglang naharap sa isang hindi tiyak na hinaharap: marami ang natagpuan ang kanilang mga sarili sa labas ng trabaho at matatag na pabahay, nakaharap sa hindi inaasahang gastos, at madalas na walang teknolohiya o mga supply upang magpatuloy na nagtatrabaho patungo sa kanilang degree.

Sa pakikipagsosyo sa College Futures Foundation, gumawa kami ng desisyon na tumaas at bigyan ang mga mag-aaral sa kolehiyo na mababa ang kita kung ano ang pinaka kailangan nila: direktang tulong sa cash. Sa pagitan ng Abril at Hunyo, ang CA College Student Emergency Support Fund ay nagbigay ng direktang tulong sa cash sa higit sa 6,000 mga mag-aaral na may mababang kita sa kolehiyo sa pampublikong mas mataas na sistema ng edukasyon sa California. Ang Pondo ay namahagi ng tulong sa isang equity lens, na inuuna ang mga mag-aaral nang walang kita o access sa kaluwagan, at sa mga bata na umaasa sa kanila. Noong Hulyo, sinundan ng MAF ang mga tatanggap ng bigyan upang maunawaan kung paano nakakaapekto ang krisis sa buhay ng mga mag-aaral. Sa paglipas ng dalawang linggo, 3,193 mga mag-aaral ang tumugon sa survey na pagkatapos ng pagbibigay, na ibinabahagi kung paano sila nagtatapos at kung paano naapektuhan ng bigay ng MAF ang kanilang pang-akademikong at paglalakbay sa pananalapi.

Sa Rapid Response Insights Series na ito, binabalik namin ang kurtina sa buhay pampinansyal ng mga mag-aaral sa kolehiyo. Sinisiyasat namin kung paano, sa libu-libong mga mag-aaral, ang mga diskarte at mapagkukunan sa pananalapi ay naakibat sa mga responsibilidad ng pamilya. Kapag tumingin kami sa unahan, ang aming tugon ay kailangang magabayan ng isang pangunahing pag-unawa: kung tunay na nais naming tulungan ang mga tao na maabot ang kanilang mga layunin, dapat nating ituon ang kung ano ang pundasyon — seguridad sa pananalapi. Inaanyayahan ka naming tumulong sa buhay pampinansyal ng mga mag-aaral sa kolehiyo na may mababang kita sa CA at tuklasin ang buong serye ng pananaw.

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Webinar: Tinitiyak ang Tagumpay ng Mag-aaral sa Kolehiyo Sa Pamamagitan ng Equity-Centered Relief

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Mga Pananaw #1: Epekto ng COVID-19 sa Mga Mag-aaral sa CA College

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Mga Pananaw #2: Pinansyal na Mga Buhay ng Mga Mag-aaral sa Kolehiyo Iba't ibang sa Mas Mataas na Ed System ng CA

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Mga Pananaw sa Ulat: Mabilis na Sinusuportahan ang Mga Gantimpala ng Cash na Matagumpay na Sumusuporta sa Tagumpay ng Mga Mag-aaral sa Kolehiyo

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Ang suporta para sa pananaliksik na ito ay ibinigay ng College Futures Foundation.

Energy Watch Chronicles: How A Small Business Owner Sweetened His Customers’ Experience By Brightening Up His Shop

Whether you’re a San Francisco Bay Area native, or have only visited the city a handful of times, you may have explored the famed “North Beach/Little Italy” neighborhood and crossed paths with the candy shop Z. Cioccolato (cioccolato is the italian word for “chocolate”). The storefront is hard to miss with its bright, playful, showcase window and a personality to match. The intoxicating smell of freshly popped caramel corn fills the sidewalk, compelling passersby to come inside and take a look around. 

Upon entering, you find yourself overwhelmed by bountiful barrels piled high with vibrant saltwater taffy, nostalgic vintage candies, charming childhood toys, and so much more. But there’s one holy grail that makes this candy shop so different than any other– here at Z. Cioccolato, it’s all about the fudge. Each customer that walks through the door is encouraged to try one of 60 unique, regularly rotated flavors.

Each detail of the sensational Z. Cioccolato experience is carefully preserved by the current and sole owner, Mike Zwiefelhofer, who has been on a mission to enhance the retail space by creating an unforgettable customer experience.

Mike comes from a long lineage of business owners.

For Mike, the ability to run a business runs in his blood. Mike’s great grandparents owned a small department store chain in Northern California for over 100 years and he has since followed in their footsteps: he began his first job as a box boy at the age of 14, worked his way up to a frozen yogurt shop owner, and worked in furniture sales before he arrived at the opportunity to purchase Z.Cioccolato.

“There were two major things that attracted me to this shop: One is the location, it’s an amazing location… But the main thing that attracted me to this business is the fudge…Without the fudge, we are just a normal candy shop, but with the fudge, we have something award winning, unique, and different. That is our signature.”

When Mike bought the store from the now-retired owners four years ago, he was excited to put his culmination of experience to the test:

“I did not know much about chocolate, but I did know about desserts from my frozen yogurt shop and I definitely know a lot about retail. So, the chocolate portion I was able to learn over the last 4 years…All of my experience is put to use here at the shop.”

As sole owner of Z.Cioccolato, Mike wears all the different hats in the shop. He has a sales staff to work the front and a chocolatier to work the kitchen, but every job in-between is his daily responsibility. When asked to describe a day in the life of a small business owner, Mike thought about how to answer for a brief moment and articulated:

“It’s a hard question. There are too many things I do…”

Life as the sole owner of a small business comes with its challenges; it can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. As a testament to Mike’s perseverance, in his first two years of learning the ins-and-outs of Z.Cioccolato, he maintained his second job as a furniture salesman to pay his personal bills and remain financially stable. That era was full of long hour days, back-to-back. Despite the odds, four years later, Mike focuses on building a future for his business.

As a small business owner, Mike has to carefully manage his business expenses.

During our conversation, Mike talked about the harsh reality that small businesses typically don’t make that much money. The high cost of running the shop makes it difficult to raise profits. Mike is constantly searching for areas where he can save money, but those opportunities are sparse when it takes a minimum amount of resources to simply run the shop. 

One day as Mike was operating Z.Cioccolato, he received a call from Mission Asset Fund (MAF) introducing the Energy Watch Loan Program. The Energy Watch Loan Program provides small businesses zero-interest, credit building loans up to $2,500 to finance energy efficiency upgrades. Business owners have the opportunity to save energy and money on their utility bill, while at the same time reducing their impact on the environment. The Energy Watch Loan Program is a collaborative initiative between MAF and the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

In a space where sales calls are frequent and in high volume, Mike was protective at first glance and filed away the information as being “too good to be true.” One year later, however, he was reintroduced to the program:

“I happened to meet the contractor who did the lights. He lives nearby and stopped into the store and he brought up the program. Now this is the second time I had heard of it, and I was able to ask him a lot of questions. He gave me an estimate of how much he thought I would save on my PG&E bill, and that’s what really made me say: ‘Well, it’s a no brainer.’

Mike utilized the Energy Watch Program to brighten up his shop (with a few added benefits).

Mike proceeded to get two different lighting upgrades over the following year, totalling around $3,000. Rebates and incentives from the Energy Watch Program enabled him to lower the cost to around $1,680 with a monthly loan payment of about $100 to be completely paid off in the next year. Right off the bat, the gains were noticeable: monthly savings on his PG&E bill added up to about $100, matching the monthly payments and totalling a value of $1,200 a year.

For a small business owner, a $3,000 out of pocket cost may be a high hurdle. As Mike pointed out, saving energy and “being green” is a privilege to some extent. If a business is not especially profitable, an energy efficiency project with upfront costs may become less of a priority. The Energy Watch Program removes this hurdle with affordable, flexible loan products. According to Mike:

“It allows you to do a project that otherwise wouldn’t get done…As a business owner, there are very few times where there’s something with no risk and no downside. It’s interest free money, it helps your business, it saves on your monthly PG&E bill.”

Mike’s energy efficiency upgrade had a bigger impact than just monthly savings.

Mike described that prior to the upgrades, the majority of his lights were burnt out, broken, and slightly different colors which gave the store a “run down” and inconsistent look. A business with this kind of lighting may appear on its way to closing down. Mike described the lighting upgrade as analogous to his ever-flowing candy bins:

“It’s the same thing with my candy bins, I don’t like them to get empty looking because it makes you look like you’re going out of business…”

Since the upgrades, every corner of the store is illuminated and appears the same, consistent, color. Although it’s a fine detail, the customer is positively impacted by it.

Mike is satisfied with his energy improvements and ties the project’s motive back to his commitment to creating a comfortable environment for his customers.

Throughout our conversation, Mike circles back to his loyalty to his customers and dedication to providing them with a unique product for their enjoyment. The shop’s signature seven layered Peanut Butter Pie fudge exemplifies this uniqueness. From what Mike and his staff can tell, Z. Cioccolato is the only candy shop in the world that makes a seven layered fudge.

Mike believes that part of Z. Cioccolato’s future is making the in-store retail experience something so unique and unforgettable that customers prefer to shop in-person rather than online. Over the past year, the lighting upgrades have helped to preserve and further cultivate the look and feel of Z. Cioccolato’s customer-centered, indoor atmosphere.

Mike has a deep passion for his work at Z. Cioccolato and will continue to advocate for the enhancement of all retail experiences to save small businesses the burden of competing with corporate giants. And as his customers, we have the sweet privilege of experiencing all the indulgence they have to offer. If you haven’t already, plan your next trip to make a candy shop stop at Z. Cioccolato on: 

474 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133.

Waiting on SCOTUS, UCLA Looks to Lending Circles for Deferred Action


MAF’s collaboration with UCLA’s Undocumented Student Center will bring Lending Circles for Deferred Action to more Los Angeles communities.

A current Supreme Court case could lead to skyrocketing interest in one of our signature programs, Lending Circles for Deferred Action.

In 2014 , President Obama announced an executive action to expand the “Deferred Action” program to grant “dreamer” youth and their parents a type of temporary permission to stay in the U.S. Although this policy has been blocked in the case United States v. Texas, a favorable Supreme Court decision expected in June of this year could make 5 million people eligible for DACA and DAPA.

For the many eligible UCLA students, affordability is a major issue.

Studies have shown that 43% of those eligible for DACA choose not to apply because of the high application fee. So when Valeria Garcia, Program Director for the Undocumented Student Program at UCLA, learned about the Lending Circles for Deferred Action program, she thought it would be a great way for UCLA students to finance their DACA applications. UCLA’s Undocumented Student Program provides a welcoming and safe space to help students navigate UCLA by offering mentorship, programs and workshops tailored to their unique needs.

Now, for the first time, UCLA students have the opportunity to join the Lending Circles program.

This partnership will enable UCLA students to pay for the $465 application fee with a zero-interest loan, and build their credit histories at the same time. Young, college-age
d youth historically have low credit scores. In a study conducted by Experian, millennials’ average credit score was over 50 points lower than the average credit score in the U.S. and close to 100 points lower than that of baby boomers.

With a growing network of Lending Circle providers, getting signed up with the program will be easy for UCLA students. Los Angeles partner providers (including including Building Skills Partnership (Los Angeles), Pilipino Workers Center of Southern CaliforniaMexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) and Korean Resource Center (KRC)) have already helped participants loan and borrow nearly $10,000 in Lending Circles loans.

UCLA students can now feel empowered to take action, to build their credit, develop sound savings habits and put money aside toward specific goals, by working with these existing partners offering the program in their own backyards.

With immigration reform on the horizon, new opportunities for collaborations like this one can help remove the financial barriers many aspiring citizens face. In January of this year, MAF launched the Build a Better LA campaign for exactly this reason. This past April, we welcomed three new partner providers through this campaign: East LA Community Corporation, Koreatown Youth + Community Center, and LIFT-LA. Together, with local partner providers and organizations like UCLA’s Undocumented Students Program, we hope to reach more hardworking families in need of an affordable financial product – and a path out of the financial shadows.

Curious to learn more about Lending Circles for Deferred Action? Check out LendingCircles.org for more information.

Celebrating the Many Moms of Our Community


This Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating all the “MAF Moms” working hard to create better lives for their families through Lending Circles.

This Sunday is a day dedicated to the strong, wise, generous, and caring mothers in our lives. In the spirit of Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating a few MAF clients who are working hard to build bright financial futures for their families.

Three Generations of Chefs

For Guadalupe, cooking authentic Mexican cuisine has always been a family affair. As a girl, she and her mother made the tastiest tortillas from scratch, and now she and her daughters do the same. She used her Lending Circles loan to buy equipment and help pay for a van to expand her catering business, El Pipila — which she runs with her daughter to support their family.

When we last shared Guadalupe’s story in 2014, she dreamed of opening a small, brick-and-mortar food stand. Now, she’s a food vendor at The Hall in San Francisco and a food truck regular at Bay Area festivals. Guadalupe’s family is key to her success. “I am doing this for my daughters. I want to make sure that neither of them has to work for anyone but themselves”.

A Mom on a Mission

Helen, a single mom from Guatemala, came to MAF with a simple dream: to have a safe home for her children. Because she couldn’t afford the hefty security deposit and didn’t have a credit score, she had no choice but to rent rooms in shared apartments — including one with families living in hallways.

After joining a Lending Circle, Helen saved up enough for a security deposit and built her credit score. Now, she has her own three-bedroom apartment for her daughters, and even bigger dreams.

Whipping Up Cupcakes with Her Son’s Support

Elvia’s son ignited her passion for baking with a simple question: “Mom, what do you love to do most?” After building a reputation for having the best desserts at parties, her family and friends encouraged Elvia to start a bakery.

She used a $5,000 loan from MAF to invest in a fridge, business license, and a number of necessities to grow her bakery, La Luna Cupcakes. She now has a cupcake shop in Crocker Galleria in San Francisco, and her children continue to be her North Star. “I always taught them if you want something, you can do it! Believe in your dream!”

Thanks to Lesley Marling, MAF’s newest Partner Success Manager, for her contributions to this post.

Law School & Tamales: DACA Opens Doors for Kimberly


With the help of Lending Circles for DACA, Kimberly is finishing her degree and prepping her law school applications — all while helping her mom and sister grow their family tamale business.

It’s hard to miss Ynes’s tamale stand.

On weekday mornings in a quiet Oakland neighborhood, you’ll find all the energy of a street market packed into one small food cart. “I was about to get breakfast across the street, then I saw you all!” shouted one of Ynes’s regulars as she approached the cart.

For years Ynes and her daughters, Kimberly and Maria, have been coming to the same spot to serve up authentic Mexican tamales. Ynes and her husband moved to Oakland from Cabo San Lucas 20 years ago to create a new life, with more opportunities for their young daughters.

From an early age, Kimberly was determined to make the most of these opportunities.

Kimberly is one of the many thousands of young people who have used Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to attend college and secure jobs. And she’s one of the hundreds who have used Lending Circles for DREAMers to fund their DACA applications.

But before DACA, many doors were closed to her.

As a child, Kimberly worked hard in school and ultimately graduated with the grades she needed to go to a 4-year university. But because she wasn’t born in the US, she didn’t qualify for financial aid or even in-state tuition. Instead, she enrolled in a local community college that she could afford to pay out-of-pocket.

One evening, Kimberly saw a segment on Univision that would change everything: a profile of a local nonprofit that provides social loans to help immigrants build credit and apply for DACA. Hoping this could be the key to her dream school, she came to our office to learn more.

Two years ago, Kimberly joined her first Lending Circle.

Right off the bat, she found MAF’s financial management training extremely helpful. “In school they teach you how to do math problems and write papers, but they don’t teach you about credit,” she said. Next, with her Lending Circles loan and a $232.50 match from the SF Mexican Consulate, she applied for DACA and was soon approved.

Her new status lifted the barriers that had been holding her back from her dreams.

Kimberly could finally access the financial aid she needed to transfer to San Francisco State University. She was hired for two part-time jobs. And with better credit, she secured a loan to buy new equipment for her family’s business: tables, chairs, and canopies so their customers to sit and socialize.

Today, Kimberly is finishing her degree in political science at SFSU — and her second Lending Circle.

She’s giving back to her community by volunteering at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, an organization that supports refugees and immigrants in the Bay Area. She’s also studying for the LSAT and preparing her law school applications, working toward a career in immigration and family law.

And all the while, she’s helping her mom grow their family’s food cart business.

Kimberly and her sister Maria are still by their mother’s side, serving tamales to an ever-growing clientele. What’s next for the family business? With an improved credit history, they’re seeking a larger loan to expand their operations with a second food cart. Ultimately, Ynes dreams of opening a restaurant to bring her delicious tamales to even more eager, hungry customers.

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.

Respect, Meet, Build: A Model for Financial Inclusion


Financial inclusion is about respecting people for who they are, meeting them where they are, and building on what’s good in their lives.

Last week as part of CFED’s Assets & Opportunity National Week of Action, Mohan Kanungo—an A&O Network Steering Committee Member and Director of Programs & Engagement here at MAF—wrote about how your credit report can impact important personal relationships. Building on those themes, Mohan is back this week to highlight MAF’s strategy for empowering financially underserved communities to build credit. This blog was originally published on CFED’s “Inclusive Economy” blog.

There are more payday loan shops in the United States than McDonald’s or Starbucks.

That might surprise if you live in a neighborhood where all your banking needs are satisfied by mainstream financial institutions instead of payday lenders, check cashers and remittance services. Sources including the New York Federal Reserve, the CFPB and the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard reveal that there are millions of people who experience financial exclusion, particularly around credit and basic financial products. These disparities are well-documented among communities of color, immigrants, veterans and many other groups who are isolated economically. How can we address these challenges and lift folks out of the financial shadows?

First, as leaders in our field we need to have a frank conversation about how we engage communities around financial services and assets.

It’s easy to cast judgement on those who use alternative products due to the high interest rates and fees, but what do you do if mainstream products are not responsive to your needs? Increasingly, banks and credit unions have been closing brick and mortar locations to move online, while rural and urban areas may not have had access to “basic” financial products many of us take for granted—like a checking account—for generations. Traditional “assets” like homeownership may seem completely out of reach even if you are well-off, educated and savvy with credit, but live in a costly and limited housing market like the San Francisco Bay Area.

Similarly, non-traditional “assets” like deferred action may seem more urgent and important for an undocumented young person because of the physical and financial security that comes with a work permit and permission to stay in the US, albeit temporarily. We need to listen and appreciate the unique challenges and perspectives of financially excluded communities before coming to a conclusion about the solution.

Second, we need to understand that the values and approach driving any solution can tell us a lot about whether the outcome of our work will be successful.

MAF started with the belief that our community is financially savvy; many in the immigrant community know what the exchange rate is with a foreign currency. We also wanted to lift up cultural practices like lending circles—where people come together to borrow and loan money to another—and formalize it with a promissory note so that folks know their money was safe and gained access to the benefit of seeing this activity reported to the credit bureaus.

It is about building on what people have and meeting them where they are rather than where we think they should be.

We need to be innovative in our fields to come up with long-lasting solutions within the financial system that are responsible to the communities they serve. Small-dollar loans by non-profit lenders like Mission Asset Fund’s Lending Circles program does just that.

Third, we need to think about how to bring our products and services to more communities who can benefit from such programs, while maintaining the respectful approach to our community.

Early on in our work at MAF, there was a clear sense that the challenges people experienced in the Mission District of San Francisco were not unique and that communities across the Bay Area and the country experienced financial exclusion. We perfected our model and then scaled slowly. While MAF sees itself as the expert in Lending Circles, we see each nonprofit as being the expert in their community. MAF also knew it was impractical for us to build a new office everywhere in the country. So we relied heavily on cloud-based technology to build a robust social loan platform and the existing banking infrastructure to facilitate transactions using ACH, which encouraged participants to get a checking account and put them on a path towards realizing larger financial goals, like paying for citizenship, eliminating high cost debt, and starting a business.

MAF was founded in 2008 with the vision to create a fair financial marketplace for hard-working families.

Since launching our social loan program, we have expanded to provide Lending Circles through 50 non-profit providers in over 18 states plus Washington D.C. We have serviced over $5 million in zero-interest loans and offer a range of financial products, including bilingual online education, to turn financial pain points into credit and savings opportunities. And we have done all this with a default rate of less than 1%.

Currently, we are expanding Lending Circles in Los Angeles, and we have plans to expand further across the country while deepening our reach in places where we already have non-profit providers. Check out LendingCircles.org to see if there’s a provider near you or express your interest in partnership. Financial institutions, foundations, government agencies, private entities and donors can champion the work of MAF and non-profit organizations working to lift people out of the financial shadows.

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.

An Important Question for Every Relationship: “What’s Your Credit Score?”


From finding your next great relationship to paying for a special night out, having good credit is important.

This blog was originally published on CFED’s “Inclusive Economy” blog as part of the Assets & Opportunity National Week of Action.

We all love the excitement of getting a notification that someone is interested in you after looking at your dating profile. You quickly check theirs, see where they live, what interests they have, what their pictures say about them.

But what if you could see their credit score, too?

So many relationships are fraught with money troubles, so it’s understandable to want to know whether your potential partner is sound financially. Dating sites are good at determining compatibility based on self-reported measures, but using a seemingly objective indicator like credit score seems like it would help make better matches–and potentially help love birds avoid some serious financial problems down the road.

What about folks who don’t have any credit history at all?

There are an estimated 26 million people in the United States who are “credit invisible”, meaning there is not enough information in the borrower’s profile to generate a credit report or a credit score. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites or Asian Americans to be credit invisible or to have unscored credit records. Millions more have “subprime” credit, meaning that they have less-than-ideal credit profiles or scores.

There was a woman who dropped by one Friday afternoon at Mission Asset Fund (MAF), the nonprofit where I work. She asked if she would be able to get money so that she could take her son out to dinner that night for his birthday. Unfortunately, MAF’s social loan program does not provide the immediacy of funds that she needed.

So where does someone like her go?

If she does not have credit and is unable to borrow from friends and family, her only option may be to go to a payday lender that can offer her money that same day as an advance on her regular earnings with an employer. Even though payday lenders are known to charge exorbitant interest rates and fees, the trade-off may seem worth it to her in order to have a celebratory meal with her family.

I saw so many people make this same decision at the payday loan shop that my mom managed in Indiana. The challenge was that, once someone took out a payday loan, it became very difficult for them to get rid of it.

What seemed like a short-term loan ballooned into a long-term commitment.

While in high school, I came back from California to visit my mom every six months, and I would see the same customers every year, again and again. They would even get my mom gifts for Christmas. The payday lender soon became the lender of choice and at times the only lender, a place where customers felt listened to and understood, but which did little to break them out of a credit-and-debt cycle so that they could truly build assets.

Many state laws protect consumers against predatory lenders, but borrowers can still access these loans online if they are not available in their neighborhood. New York has warned online lenders about its interest rates caps and rules against title lending, while other states like California have seen operations move out of state to tribal reservations in order to thwart regulations and continue business. Laws are not enough to protect consumers from accessing bad loans, as people will always need access to capital.

One of the barriers to strong consumer protection is the way our country goes about credit.

It is not intuitive that a person may be dinged on their credit report for failing to pay an electricity or cable bill, while at the same time being unable to benefit from making regular on-time payments for such services–even though these often require a credit check or a sizable deposit. Increasingly, credit has become so important that it can impact where you work and even where you live.

From finding your next great relationship to paying for a special night out, having good credit is important. My immigrant father who came to the United States from India repeatedly told me to avoid credit cards as a young adult so I would avoid the same mistakes he made. He added me as an authorized user to his AMEX charge card so I could build a credit history early on without taking on debt.

I encourage you to start similar conversations with your family members and friends about credit too.

You may even want to connect with one of the organizations in the A&O Network to help you realize larger financial goals. You, your relationship and your credit profile deserve to be powerful.

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