Can Microloans Help American Small Bizs?

Amanda Keppert is convinced that she would have lost her hot dog stand in San Jose, Calif., if she had not received a type of loan that is more common in the third world than in the United States.

According to a story in The New York Times, last year, as fewer people ate out and layoffs mounted in Silicon Valley, sales plunged more than 60 percent at the once-thriving Mandy’s Korner.

My business was drowning and I was afraid it would go under,” Keppert said. While she picked up catering work at a local concert site, it wasn’t enough to pay her expenses. She had invested all of her savings in the business, and she did not want to see it go under.

But her loan applications were rejected repeatedly at banks in San Jose. Then she found Opportunity Fund, a local microlender that has teamed up with, one of the best-known international microlenders. Kiva, which has lent more than $150 million in 53 countries, had just begun a pilot program lending to business owners in the United States.

Through Kiva, Keppert obtained a $6,500 loan that she has three years to pay back and that carries a 6 percent interest rate. She used the money to buy an ice maker, a generator to save on propane costs and large signs to advertise her business.

Before the economic collapse, microfinance – the granting of very small loans, mostly to poor people – was a concept most closely associated with the developing world. But tight credit and the recession have increased the demand for smaller loans in the United States, giving microlending a higher profile and broadening its appeal.

Photo by The New York Times.

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