Recently arrived immigrants face a unique set of challenges in acclimating to their new environment. Often lacking credit history, accessing financial capital through bank loans or lines of credit can be especially difficult. To fill the gap between immigrant financial needs and traditional bank loans, informal banking systems such as lending circles and private loan groups among families, friends, co-workers and neighbors have developed. These sources of capital can be a major factor in helping immigrants start their own business and creating a sound financial future for their families.

The following organizations provide access to capital to Northeast Ohioans in need:


The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Cleveland (HFLA) is a non-sectarian relationship lender that grants up to $12000 in need-based loans. In order to qualify, an applicant must be able to demonstrate a genuine need and have been turned down by traditional lenders. Additionally, a co-signer is required and repayment in monthly installments will begin immediately upon qualification.

“The loan committee meets twice a month. Demand is so high that we are considering increasing the frequency of committee meetings to three times per month,” says Michal Marcus, Program Director of HFLA Northeast Ohio, “the key to relationship lending is personal connections, and we [the HFLA] believe in them.”

The Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI) educates and invests in potential small-business owners throughout the state of Ohio. ECDI was founded in Columbus in 2004 and has now expanded to Cleveland, Toledo, and Akron. “[ECDI] gives immigrants tools to get started as business owners in the United States,” says Rebecca Mayhew, Relationship Manager at ECDI, “We provide services to all types of clients, including individuals with low English proficiency and little to no formal education.” In addition to microlending, ECDI offers a spectrum of training programs including financial literacy and home ownership seminars.

In November 2014 Asian Services in Action (ASIA) introduced a Peer Lending Circle that provides capital for a range of medical, social, and professional services. Traditionally, a lending circle is an informal method of banking and access to capital through which loans are disbursed through tight-knit community networks. ASIA expects a low rate of default and is relying on the relationship-lending model, wherein personal connections are key.

For more information about the Peer Lending Circle at ASIA, please contact Susan Wong at [email protected] or call 216-881-0330