Loan program promotes self-sufficiency

February 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
At a time when the economy is on the decline and loans are hard to come by, one Bay Area agency is still lending money to people many credit companies would turn away. In this Focus on Solutions report, we look at an innovative program that could be coming to your neighborhood.

Every evening at five o'clock, Georgina Castaneda locks up the office where she works, climbs into her minivan and heads off to pick up her children from an after school program. This is an ordinary routine for a lot of families, but it was something Georgina never thought she would be able to do because she could not afford a car.

"I didn't know how to get a loan. I didn't know anything about credit reports, credit check, everything," said Georgina.

But lucky for Georgina she found the Ways to Work program at Family Service Agency of San Mateo County.

"Most of our borrowers either have never had credit or they have very, very poor credit, but they are in a position where they can make modest payments to repay a loan," said Laurie Wishard, Family Service Agency president.

The Family Service Agency started Ways to Work with a grant, then partnered with local banks. The car loan program is aimed at low-income families with children under 18. They can borrow up to $4,000 at 4 percent interest to be paid back over two years. The goal is to help families become self-sufficient.

"The borrower uses that car to get to work, to get to daycare and to really improve their lives," said Wishard.

Georgina is a single mother with two children. She got her used car three and a half years ago. Before that, she was struggling.

"In terms of time, it was really hard for me to go to college, school, work," said Georgina.

Having a car made it possible for Georgina to switch from part-time to full-time work.

"I used to make half of what I make now, so that's a huge difference," said Georgina.

Her children say the car just makes life much easier.

"We used to ask other people to give us rides, and now we ask people if they want a ride," said 12-year-old daughter Gina.

The Ways to Work program has been loaning money for cars in San Mateo County for 10 years.

"In this very difficult economic crisis where home loans are failing, where bank loans are failing, our loans have not failed. We've had again a 90 to 95 percent repayment rate," said Wishard.

Family service officials believe they've found a formula that works. To get a loan, you must be at the same job for at least three months and live in the same home for at least three months.

"We also have our borrowers take financial management classes which helps them be successful. We also have our borrowers complete a lot of forms and paperwork and bring things into us because one of the things that we found that really lets us know who will be able to repay the loan is follow through," said Wishard.

Currently, Ways to Work car loans are only available to people who live or work in San Mateo County. But the national organization that launched the idea has just gotten $16 million in new financing and they're looking for partner agencies in other counties.

'It's really an opportunity for the Bay Area to start new loan programs," said Wishard.

Georgina and her children are sharing their story, hoping other families will get the same opportunity they did.

"I feel really thankful because our car can take us almost anywhere," said 8-year-old son Martin.

If you would like to apply for a Ways to Work loan or you're with an agency that might like to become a partner in the program, visit the links below.

Family Service Agency of San Mateo County (Provider of Ways to Work Loans in San Mateo County only)
Phone: (650) 403-4300 ext. 4100

National Ways to Work Web site

For organizations interested in partnering with Ways to Work, call (866) 252-7171, ext. 7.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.