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Student nonprofit fights predatory lending in South Bend, offers emergency loans

| Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Operating in its 12th year, the student-run Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion (JIFFI) offers South Bend residents an alternative to predatory lending.

Helenna Xu, a senior who serves as the nonprofit’s co-chief executive officer, said the microfinance organization provides small loans to those with an emergent need for funds.

“For example, if someone’s car broke down and they need a couple hundred dollars to fix it, they can come to us to get a loan,” Xu said.

According to Xu, JIFFI’s unique offering is that they provide the lowest interest rate the state of Indiana allows.

“[South Bend residents] don’t have to turn to predatory loan lenders, who have interest rates like 40-50%. If they come to us, they have a better chance of financing and we give them the opportunity to be financially stable,” Xu said.

Xu said exploitative lending practices extend beyond exorbitant interest rates.

“They would target really vulnerable populations who don’t really have other options,” she said. “They have the advertising that says ‘cash available immediately’ or targeting that you can get a job right away.”

Xu noted these lenders also prey on the lack of financial illiteracy within the community, as “a lot of clients are unfamiliar with the terminology or just how a loan is structured and then they will get tricked and trapped into repaying for a very long time.”

In describing JIFFI’s loan process, Xu said the usual amount is $500, but in some cases, they cautiously offer greater conditional loans.

“We have a credit team that is dedicated to talking to the clients and reviewing their financial status,” she said. “We evaluate their whole financial situation to make sure they have a good reason to get a loan.”

In order to finance these loans, JIFFI relies heavily on fundraising initiatives. “We have done Blaze [Pizza] fundraisers, Chipotle fundraisers—where 20-25% of the proceeds go to our organization. We have also done GoFundMe,” Xu said.

To complement their lending efforts, JIFFI also offers a Financial Empowerment Program (FEP) to cultivate responsible financial habits.

“In the past for FEP, we’ve gone to local high schools and other community centers like the Center for the Homeless. We would have a class on financial literacy on basically how to open a bank account and how to finance responsibly,” Xu said.

Speaking on the organization’s founding over ten years ago, Xu said Peter Woo ‘14 was interested in putting his financial knowledge to practical use. “With the help of [Professor Carl] Ackermann, the first advisor of JIFFI, they founded a nonprofit organization that makes an impact on the South Bend community,” she said.

Xu, a Program of Liberal Studies and political science double major, said her academic focus did not prevent her from joining the organization. “[My majors] were irrelevant to finance, but it [did] not matter because JIFFI has a lot of divisions,” she said.

Last year, JIFFI helped over 20 South Bend residents with their financial needs. They are currently accepting applications for the 2023-2024 academic year.

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