Supporting Returning Citizens in Entrepreneurship and Credit Building

Many returning citizens wish to start or grow a small business. Yet for those who have no or impaired credit histories following incarceration, the lack of available responsible credit building financial products makes them more susceptible to the ubiquitous and predatory marketing practices of payday lenders and other fringe creditors. This perpetuates opportunities for returning citizens to fall into cycles of financial instability.

In recognition of these challenges, Credit Builders Alliance released Achieving Credit Strength: A Toolkit for Supporting Returning Citizen Entrepreneurs. This toolkit provides financial capability and reentry practitioners with tools and resources for helping returning citizens to build strong credit, and strong businesses. In conjunction with the release of this toolkit, CBA is hosting convenings in partnership with community leaders that are experts in this space. Participants will have the opportunity to interact with the toolkit and national experts discussing credit building, entrepreneurship and ways to support the financial stability of returning citizens pre- and post-incarceration. See below for more details on each convening.

Download the Toolkit

2018 Convenings: Building Inclusive Spaces

Join CBA and host partners in Charlottesville, VA, Chicago, IL and Cleveland, OH for three convenings focused on reducing recidivism through asset-building opportunities. The convenings will offer an opportunity for groups to explore credit building and entrepreneurship as strategies that are integral in reintegration and recidivism-prevention efforts. All events are free to attend and made possible through a grant from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Who should attend: CBA members, non-profit and community-based organizations, municipal leaders, funders, and other stakeholders (including returning citizens) supporting the pre- and post-release efforts of those who are justice exposed. Local and national attendees are welcome. Non-local attendees may apply for a sub-grant of up to $500 to help defray travel costs. Apply here.

About the sub-grant: Credit Builders Alliance (CBA) has a limited number of sub-grants of up to $500 to help defray travel costs for individuals affiliated with nonprofit or governmental organizations* who work with returning citizens (i.e. formerly incarcerated populations), and wish to attend one of three in-person convenings. Individuals seeking travel reimbursement must seek it directly from their organization. CBA will not reimburse expenses directly to any individual.

Organizations interested in participating in a focus group can also apply for the sub-grant. See details below under "other engagement opportunities".

Note: Organizations can choose to apply for funds to attend a convening and to conduct a focus group. If funds are available, organizations may be offered more than one sub-grant.

*If you are not affiliated with a nonprofit or governmental entity and wish to participate in one of the convenings, please contact [email protected] to determine your eligibility to apply for travel reimbursement before completing the survey.

Apply for a Sub-Grant to Attend     Download the Invititation

Event Information:

August 24th in Cleveland, OH
In partnership with the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry
September 11th in Charlottesville, VA 
In partnership with The Fountain Fund
September 13th in Chicago, IL
In partnership with Heartland Human Care Services

Other engagement opportunities:

Apply for a Sub-Grant for a Focus Group     Listen to our Pre-event Webinar     Subscribe for Convening Updates

Returning Citizens: No longer bound but now financially restrained

While incarcerated, many incur large debts due to court fees, fines, public defender fees, and the like. Adding to this burden are previous debt obligations, incurred prior to incarceration. However, making timely payments on debt commitments while incarcerated may be challenging (or near impossible)—due to a lack of income and lack of family members or friends who are willing and able to assist in keeping the debt current. Consequently, most of these debts accumulate late payment fees and eventually end up in default and sent to collections. Upon release, many financial institutions will not lend to returning citizens, or those who are justice exposed, because of their poor credit history and resultant low credit score or lack of a credit score at all.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that many returning citizens have been victims of identity theft while incarcerated. Credit cards and cell phone accounts in their name may have been stolen and used fraudulently by other people. Once released, the returning citizens then have identity theft issues to deal with. In cases of ID theft where the perpetrator is known, which is the case for the majority of identity theft cases, a police report is often required to address the problem. However, many returning citizens are reluctant to report to the authorities on someone that they know.
An exorbitant number of Americans are potentially affected by this reality, including:
  • Between 70 to 100 million Americans who have a criminal record, which equals roughly 1 in 3 Americans
  • Over 650,000 offenders who are released every year
  • A disproportionate number of minorities who are in prison: 1 in 17 are white, 1 in 3 are black and 1 in 5 are Latino
The ability to access credit is vital, since many returning citizens are not able to find jobs due to exclusionary hiring policies, which are meant to screen them out. So, many are drawn to entrepreneurship as an income generating path, which is not dependent upon being hired by others. However, starting a small business requires capital. If returning citizens are unable to qualify for start-up loans, then this avenue is also blocked.