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This Kansas City Credit Union Thinks Small Loans Shouldn’t Be So Hard to Access

With the Dream Builders loan product, those with past debt or poor credit aren’t precluded from starting a business or owning a home. 

By  Bianca Gonzalez

People looking for small loans face a number of hurdles. For starters, the underwriting process can take several weeks to complete, regardless of the size of the loan, making them virtually useless in the case of an emergency. And even if borrowers have the time to wait, many factors could cause a client to be denied a loan, such as having low credit scores, unpaid medical debt or bankruptcy. 

The Holy Rosary Credit Union (HRCU) in Kansas City designed its Dream Builder’s loan product to address those barriers. The CDCU serves the Kansas City Catholic community as well as people connected to local nonprofits and needs-based organizations. "We developed this product to address major issues that a lot of borrowers face," such as getting loans for small amounts, says Patricia Case, the credit union's commercial lender. "Banks incentivize their loan officers to go after dollar volume."

The credit union is able to take on more risk and work with clients from a wider range of financial backgrounds in part thanks to a $3.3 million dollar direct capitalization grant from Kauffman Foundation. They’re also able to speed up the underwriting process significantly, increasing the return on the time investment, by using a credit scoring model for smaller loans rather than going through an underwriting process. 

"It enables us to spend less time trying to get approval for a $20,000 loan," says Case. "Now we're able to do several loans a week rather than one every two weeks."

According to Shakia Webb, program officer in entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, they were drawn to HRCU because of their mission. 

"We want to help close the gaps as it relates to access to capital,” Webb says. “We're taking those innovative approaches to work with organizations that create models that allow access to capital for underserved and marginalized communities."

The Dream Builders loan worked for Donnell Jamison, who founded the Kansas City streetwear brand, Deep Rooted, in 2018. Jamison says he founded the brand out of the back of his car after praying to God for a sense of direction. 

"I was in the streets doing things I wasn't proud of,” he says. “I was sick of what I was doing. I was asking if He could show me something better." 

He eventually moved to a mall kiosk. He made $9,000 on his soft grand opening and was able to expand significantly. But when it was time to upgrade to a new location, Jamison needed access to a loan. "Other banks wouldn't give me a loan because my credit score was too low. Even the bank I was with for five years," he said. "I survived the COVID shutdown and I'm still in business. That has to mean something."

The Holy Rosary Credit Union gave Jamison a $20,000 loan to move Deep Rooted to a new location, as well as access to training, coaching, and the potential to apply for more financial products for Deep Rooted, as well as for Jamison's personal life goals. According to Case, HRCU takes the time to understand the story of their applicants and understand their bigger picture, not just their credit score. 

"We take our relationships seriously," says Case. "We want to make these people wealthy individuals, not just for themselves, but for their families and their employees. Whenever we teach someone how to better themselves, they will teach other people how the system works. And that's going to be better for the community as a whole."

Case and Jamison have stayed in touch, and Jamison now has a path to potentially buying a home through HRCU. He hopes to inspire people to do positive things in the world. Jamison says his message to young folks is to "use me as inspiration, and hope that you can inspire others coming up the ladder. It's not how you start. It's how you finish."

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is developed in partnership with Next City.