Kiva U.S. Review
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- Date Established
- Suitable for startups
- No credit score requirements
- No interest rates
- No additional fees
- No prepayment penalty
- Good customer support
- Unsuited for large businesses
- Lengthy application process
- Typical time to funding: 1 – 3 months
Note: Kiva U.S., the United States branch of Kiva’s microlending service, used to be called Kiva Zip. Previous to June 2016, the program was in a testing phase, but has since been integrated into the main Kiva website.
Kiva U.S. might be the only business crowdfunder in which investors enter into a loan expecting to lose money. Because these loans have 0% interest, at most, investors will break even.
So what’s the deal?
Kiva U.S. is the United States branch of Kiva, a nonprofit microlender operating all over the world. Prior to June of 2016, the program, called Kiva Zip, was in an experimental phase to test a more direct method of borrowing. The program has been integrated into Kiva’s main website, but the U.S. branch still retains the same lending model.
Kiva U.S. differs from the main Kiva program in one important way: in the non-U.S. programs, funds are dispersed and collected by funding partners, who also collect interest for their services. The United States model eliminates the funding partners, so the interest-free funds go straight from the lending platform to the borrowers.
The parent organization has met criticism before, largely due to non-transparent operations and controversial actions on the part of their funding partners. However, by eliminating the funding partners, Kiva U.S. appears to have solved those problems.
The end result of five years of experimentation is a unique underwriting model. Instead of checking credit scores, going over your most recent cash flow documents, and requiring collateral, Kiva U.S. relies on what they call “social underwriting.” That is, they measure your character and community standing.
Kiva U.S. loans are not without their downsides: like it does with other crowdfunders, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the fundraising period can last up to 60 days, which may be too long for some merchants to wait. And with a maximum possible borrowing amount of $10K, some businesses might find they need access to more capital.
On the other hand, merchants looking for the best deal can hardly do better than 0% interest. If you have the time and inclination, check it out.
Read on for the full review. Or, if Kiva U.S. isn’t the right fit for your startup, head over to our list of Startup Business Loan Reviews to see what else might work for your business.
Table of Contents
Kiva offers crowdfunded microloans.
|Time in business:||N/A|
Kiva U.S. doesn’t require any time in business or a certain amount of revenue. The organization also don’t check your credit score. To be eligible for a loan, you do have to have a legitimate business that is not bankrupt or involved in illegal activities, and the loan proceeds must be used for business purposes.
Terms & Fees
These are the terms and fees for a loan from Kiva U.S.:
|Borrowing amount:||$25 – $10K|
|Term length:||6 – 36 months|
Borrowers are potentially eligible for a maximum of $10K. Kiva has a few guidelines regarding maximum borrowing amounts depending on the age of the business:
- Business ideas: Max $1K
- Business less than 90 days old: Max $5K
- Business is operating and generating revenue: Max $10K
That said, the amount you are personally allowed to ask for will vary depending on many characteristics, including business age and other factors.
Interest rates are always 0%, and there are no fees for borrowing. Naturally, even though the loans carry no fees, you are still responsible for repaying the borrowed money in a timely manner.
Kiva U.S. does not require collateral, but there are still be consequences for defaulting on a loan: Kiva reports to business credit agencies. If you default on your loan, your credit score will be negatively affected.
Because Kiva’s loans are crowdfunded, it has a longer application process than other business lenders. The whole process can take up to two months.
Here’s an overview of the whole process:
- Fill out an application online
- Enter the approval stage
- Enter a 15 day private funding period
- Enter a 30 day public funding period
- Get funds within 5 – 7 days
In order to begin the application process, you fill out an application on the Kiva website. The application will ask for information about you, your contact information, your personal finances, your business, your social media accounts, and information about your loan. According to the FAQ, this step will take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
You will also need to provide a picture and a bio about yourself and your business for your profile. Kiva details a fair amount of information regarding best practices for your profile on the website.
Note that previously, in order to get into the Kiva U.S. program, the borrower had to be endorsed by a trustee. The trustee was responsible for vouching for the character of the borrower and holding the borrower accountable. While seeking out a trustee is still encouraged (because it lends strength to your application), it is no longer mandatory.
After your application has been submitted, a member of Kiva’s team will review your application and get in touch to let you know whether you’ve been approved and, if so, help you through the rest of the application.
Before your loan goes into the funding phase, you’ll be asked to lend at least $25 to another borrower. Kiva’s reasoning for this step is two-fold:
We ask this to help you understand a lender’s experience before launching your own campaign and because we want all borrowers to show their support of Kiva as a reciprocal community creating economic opportunity for all.
The next step is to enter a 15-day private funding period. During this part of the application, you’ll be required to recruit 5-30 people from your own circles to fund your loan. The number of people you’ll have to recruit depends upon how much money you’re requesting.
When the private funding period is over, your loan will enter the public phase, during which anybody can lend you money. Your listing will stay live for 30 days or until funded. During this time (and even after your loan is funded), you will be able to interact with investors (and potential investors) via a conversations function on your profile.
After your loan is 100% funded, the money will be sent to your PayPal account within 7 days.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
The Kiva U.S. website provides everything the average borrower would need to know about how to raise funds on Kiva’s platform. The website clearly covers everything from application to repayment, has an FAQ, and provides a fair amount of additional resources as well.
Customer Service & Technical Support
The website has a plethora of information, including a walkthrough of the whole process, a resource center, and an FAQ. The main Kiva website also has a help center. You’ll be able to answer most of your questions from those resources.
If your question can’t be answered on the website, you can contact the community support team via email or phone, though the phone line is voicemail only. They promise to get back to you within 48 hours. When you begin an application, somebody should get in contact with you regarding your loan.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
As noted above, the parent company has received some criticism for their field partners (loan intermediaries responsible for the distribution and collection of loans). Because Kiva U.S. does not have intermediaries, this program does not carry the same problems as Kiva’s international services.
In terms of borrowers who use Kiva U.S., complaints are scarce. While there are some reports of people who are frustrated because Kiva declined their application (a risk merchants run any time they apply for financing), most borrowers have positive experiences to report.
Nonetheless, here are a few reasons a loan from Kiva U.S. might not be right for your business:
- Long application process: Your loan could take up to two months to be funded. Furthermore, because you have to drum up investors, the process is more involved, and you run the risk of not meeting your goal at the end of the process.
- Small borrowing amounts: Currently, Kiva’s loans cap off at a maximum of $10K, and the amount you’ll personally be able to request might be even less. If you need more capital, you might want to look elsewhere for funding.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
There are a number of positive reviews of Kiva U.S. on the company’s website and floating around on the web. Obviously, people love that these loans come with absolutely no fees or interest.
Another common praise regarding Kiva U.S. is the personal touch. Borrowers like the feeling that other people are lending simply to help grow their business. While other peer-to-peer lending sites can feel impersonal, Kiva fosters a sense of community. Borrowers are required to post pictures and a bio, and they are able to interact with lenders and potential lenders via the conversations tab on their profile.
It’s hard to dislike Kiva U.S. Barring grants and donations, this is one of the least expensive forms of financing available to business owners. While Kiva U.S. certainly won’t work for every business, it’s definitely worth checking out if you run a community-oriented business that needs a small infusion of cash.
If you don’t think Kiva U.S. is right for your business, check out our full list of Startup Loans and Crowdfunder Reviews.