Secret “money club” helps local immigrants raise funds for new businesses

METRO ATLANTA — Have you ever wondered how some immigrants new to this country are able to get enough financial backing to start a business in your community?

For many of them, it’s because they are able to secure financing through a secret “money club”.

Channel 2′s Sophia Choi spoke with several local immigrant families, all familiar with the tradition of geh.

While you typically have to have a credit history to get a loan at a traditional bank, many Asians, especially Koreans who are new to the country use a geh to start their “American Dream.”

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Choi spoke with former immigration attorney Bonnie Youn who spoke about how her mother was in a geh, something she too is personally familiar with.

Youn explained that a geh consists of a group of trusted friends, family and even church members who get together to help each other with financing.

“To start a business, usually a small business. If you get get a group, each person agrees to put in a certain amount and each person in the group basically takes their turn in taking the pot,” said Youn. “And that way you have a means of financing that you wouldn’t be able to get capital for.”

The monthly payment amount is usually set by whoever started the geh.

“You can see tens of thousands of dollars as a monthly requirement to put into the geh,” Youn said.

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The person getting the money, gets it interest free with no taxes collected. It’s something former Federal Prosecutor BJay Pak says is perfectly legal.

“If you think about it, you’re willing, you’re just lending some money,” Pak said.

Pak told Choi his family has also participated in a geh. He said helping others succeed is the primary goal. But he adds there’s another very big draw.

“It is an opportunity to get together, share stories and bring everybody together. I think this would work pretty well for communities who have a tougher time getting traditional financing,” said Pak.

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But according to Youn, it’s not all fun. Sometimes people take off with the money.

“Many times, people would try to sue for that. But when you don’t have anything on paper, and it’s kind of a handshake deal, it’s very difficult. It’s the idea of community shame that would have prevented you, and certainly all the members of your family, from being affected by it that would have prevented you from breaking the geh,” Youn said.

Choi, Pak and Youn all say geh still goes on in the Asian community but it is happening less with the second generations, the ones who grew up here in America.

That generation typically has some sort of credit history and often go the more traditional way for loans through banks.