This platform wants to disrupt the payday loan industry

NAAC Finance will connect the unbanked to quick money, financial literacy and help them avoid predatory, high-interest borrowing.

More than 7 million U.S. households are unbanked, meaning no one living in that household has a checking or savings account, according to a FDIC survey. Not having a bank account can make it difficult to qualify for a home, small business, or small loan, leaving millions of Americans without access to finance.

To help solve this problem, the National Asian American Coalition (NAAC), a California-based CDFI, has formed NAAC Financea digital lending service for low- to middle-income communities who have difficulty accessing traditional banking services. The service is a partnership with Asenso Finance, the start-up of global venture studio Talino Venture Labs.

“It’s about digital credit and financial management,” says Mel Dimacali, CDFI associate director at NAAC. “Rather than just borrowing, it also helps them improve their credit score.”

The digital lending service grew out of an FDIC Tech Sprint competition that explored how to help banks meet the needs of the unbanked through new technologies and methods. NAAC and Talino Venture Labs won the Market Readiness category with the program: “Breaking down barriers: reaching the last mile of the Unbanked.”

“The goal was to create a product that would not only attract people to join in terms of the benefits of the credit portion and improve their credit scores, but also in terms of financial management education,” says Dimacali.

Increasing home ownership is the primary goal of NAAC and its programs. The organization is a HUD-licensed not-for-profit housing advisory agency that provides down payment assistance and homeownership advice, as well as small business loans.

NAAC is currently accepting applications for the new NAAC Finance program and plans to fully launch in February 2022 with the SPRING Small Dollar Loan. Borrowers can apply for $1,000, $2,000, and $2,500 in loans with interest rates ranging from 10% to 20%, and loan applications are quickly approved within two business days. Funding is paid out within two weeks.

The quick settlement is an attempt to solve the “short-term cash liquidity” problem that individuals and small businesses often face, Dimacali says. The program also aims to help people avoid payday lenders when they need money fast, like this one Loans can charge up to 400% interest and leave borrowers in worse financial shape.

NAAC Finance also requires borrowers to complete financial literacy training, which teaches money management skills. “We’re going to teach you why money matters, why credit matters,” adds Dimacali. “We’re giving them an example of why building your credit is important, because by building your credit you can be a more successful small business owner and a more successful individual as far as credit and financial literacy is concerned.”

Low- to middle-income individuals with a credit score of less than 680 who are employed are eligible for a NAAC Finance loan. Small business loans are also available to help small businesses access capital to grow or recover from the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Dimacali, the program isn’t just available to the Asian American community, and NAAC works with other community organizations to reach underserved groups. “Once this is fully launched, it will only get bigger and bigger when it comes to truly serving communities with education,” he says.

Dimacali says he’s excited that NAAC Finance will be helping unbanked and low- to middle-income people become more financially independent, take an active role in the community, and achieve the “American dream of owning a home.”

“Because really, when someone has a low credit score, statistics show that it tends to stay that way,” he explains. “They tend to get trapped in a system. Through our loans, we offer them a springboard to get back on track. And it’s exciting because we have many partners involved in this mission.”

This story is part of our CDFI Futures series, which examines the community development finance industry through the lenses of justice, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Subscribe to PCG’s CapNexus newsletter at capnexus.org.

Erica Sweeney is a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, AR. It covers health, wellness, business and many other topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Good Housekeeping, HuffPost, Parade, Money, Insider, and more.

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