Microlending Comes to Washington

Banks continue to be reluctant to lend to small businesses. As a result, NPR reports (ht Ray), some small businesses are turning to a form of microlending. A case in point is Ryan Fochler, a pet care entrepreneur:

After being turned down by bank after bank, Fochler came across the Latino Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit microlender based nearby in Washington, D.C.

Fochler is not Latino, but he was told that was OK. The LEDC works with all kinds of local businesses that have been turned down by traditional banks. Their goal is to help fledgling, independent businesses get on their feet.

They don’t operate exactly like microlenders in the developing world, some of which issue interest-free loans and let recipients repay whatever they can, whenever they can.

In contrast, American microlenders charge competitive interest rates, and the loans must be repaid on time. Defaulting on a microloan has the same consequences as defaulting on a bank loan.

The LEDC issues loans ranging from $500 to $50,000. Often in the past, those who came to the LEDC to apply for a microloan had little or no credit history.

But Rob Vickers, director of lending at the LEDC, says the profile of his average microloan applicant changed dramatically during the credit crisis.

“I was seeing clients that I couldn’t believe weren’t bankable coming in, and thinking, ‘Wow, this person has a credit score in the mid-700s, their business existed for more than two years, and yet, not only are they not able to obtain a bank loan, but they’re having their credit line slashed.'”

As noted, it isn’t exactly the same as the microlending made famous in developing economies. But it has some interesting similarities.

For more, read the transcript on which the NPR article is based.