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For 115 years, the Jewish Free Loan Association has provided loans to those who need help the most, and in keeping with Biblical principles, the organization doesn’t charge fees for the funds, which typically can be up to $5,000, said Rachel Grose, JFLA executive director.
“The fact that we don’t charge any interest or any fees … keeps your costs down, so people are unencumbered. They can face all of life’s challenges in the best way possible,” Grose said.
Instead of using fees and interest payments to fund new loans, the JFLA depends on donations, lending money for education, healthcare, adoptions or starting a business to people of all faiths in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Elizabeth Olive Bolla used the JFLA loan to augment her personal savings and start a yoga studio, Olive Yoga in Long Beach, three years ago, and she said she would recommend anyone in a similar situation reach out for help. Bolla said she used the money to redo the floors of her yoga studio and purchase supplies and materials, and the 0% interest allowed her to repay the loan in its entirety.
“It helped me to basically do the start-up costs of opening a brick and mortar,” Bolla said.
Grose said 99.5% of all loans are repaid in full, despite the JFLA not requiring any form of collateral.
“Our objective is to make the loan and ensure the client can afford to repay it. We’re kind of working at it from all angles. We’re a social services agency, not a bank. A bank would say you’re defaulting on your loan, let’s take your car. We’re never going to do something like that,” Grose said.
Instead, the JFLA uses a personal touch. Applicants aren’t screened for their credit or income. They meet with a loan analyst who determines that the money will be able to be repaid. During that meeting, a “one-on-one connection” is created, which helps the borrower ensure the loan is paid back, Grose said.
The borrower is also asked to find one or two guarantors, often a friend or relative, who will co-sign the loan. That way, if the borrower can’t make their monthly payments, they know someone close to them will make the payments.
“I think there’s a psychological component there,” Grose said. “If you asked your mom to guarantee your loan, you don’t want Jewish Free Loan calling your mom to say [the applicant] isn’t repaying his loan.”
The organization, which started more than a century ago giving out loans to immigrants for sewing machines, push carts and other necessary equipment for small businesses at the time, has evolved along with the modern economy.
The majority of the JFLA’s nearly 800 loans in fiscal year 2018 went to education and emergency and healthcare expenses, but Grose said the JFLA is working on housing loans as well. The JFLA received a grant from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a housing stability loan fund, and the JFLA is also interested in finding homeless students a place to live.
“We’re turning to housing as one of our major issues like everyone else,” Grose said.
Whether the loans are for housing or starting a business, Grose said the group receives thank you notes daily from grateful loan recipients.
“I think there is really a pay-it-forward attitude,” she said.
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