Thursday, December 24, 2009

Community Lenders Hit the Funding Jackpot


Goldman Sachs' banking titans and top congressional Democrats don't often see eye to eye -- executive pay caps, anyone? But here's something the megabank and Capitol Hill agree on: One of the best ways to get financing to worthy small businesses is through a little-known community lending vehicle called a CDFI.

Taken together, Goldman Sachs and the federal government have earmarked more than $300 million to invest in these local financiers in 2010. Compared to Wall Street's bailout billions, that's pennies on the dollar, but for CDFIs it's a jackpot. Next year's funding pool is almost three times bigger than any they've ever had before.

A CDFI is a Community Development Financial Institution, a certification conferred by the Treasury Department. The program gives low-interest government loans, grants and tax credits to organizations that specialize in economically developing low-income and otherwise underserved markets.

CDFIs were a hot topic at the small business lending forum Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner convened last month to brainstorm solutions to the ongoing credit crunch small companies face. Wary of lending to firms struggling through the recession, banks slashed their small business credit this year.

That left CDFIs, which specialize in riskier loans, scrambling to pick up the slack. Funding requests surged. For the 2010 fiscal year, the CDFI Fund received applications totaling $467 million, a 97% jump from 2009.

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