While growing up in California, José Quiñonez and his five siblings came together to overcome the financial challenges that come with not having access to credit as a former undocumented immigrant.

Quiñonez is now using his personal experience to help immigrant and low income communities by turning the Latino tradition of tandas, or community lending circles, into an opportunity for immigrants to develop a credit score through his organization, the Mission Asset Fund.

“You have a group of individuals, maybe their friends, relatives or coworkers, that come together and agree to put money into a pot,” said Quiñonez, founder and chief executive officer of the Mission Asset Fund.

“Let’s say you have a group of 10 individuals and they all agree to put 100 dollars on a monthly basis. Then, essentially you’re kind of pulling in a thousand dollars when those 10 individuals put in 100 dollars. And then, somebody takes those thousand dollars,” explained Quiñonez. This cycle continues until everyone in the group had a chance to grab their 1,000 dollars.

Quiñonez formalized this activity through the Mission Asset Fund, an organization based in California that recognizes lending circles as an activity to develop a credit score. So far, the organization has helped around 6,000 newcomers build credit histories and join the mainstream financial system.

“Through that credit score, they can then access a world of possibilities in the financial marketplace by either getting loans to buy cars or houses, getting loans to start a business or to get a good rate on their insurance,” said Quiñonez.

“So, we’re using with this traditional and beautiful practice that happens in our community and using it as a starting point to access the world of opportunities in the financial marketplace,” he added.

His work has been recognized by the MacArthur Foundation after winning the Genius Grant, a $625,000 prize awarded by the organization.

“When I learned about predatory loans, it hurt me deeply because I know how hard people work to earn money and these lenders come in legally and basically steal your money away,” said Quiñonez. “That’s how I learned to see finance from a social justice angle and that’s how I got into this work.”

Featured Image: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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