ZestCash, a company founded by former Google CIO and VP of engineering Douglas Merrill to legitimize the payday loan industry, has raised $73 million round of funding. The company raised $23 million in an equity round led by Matrix Partners. Existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, GRP Partners, Flybridge Capital Partners, and Lighthouse Capital Partners also fully participated in the round. The company also raised a separate $50 million line of debt financing from Victory Park Capital to fund its loan portfolio.
ZestCash takes an entirely different approach to underwriting by combining Google-style machine learning techniques and data analysis, combined with traditional credit scoring. As a result, the company can offer credit to many people who historically would have been turned away.
Payday loans are common amongst consumers who don’t have the credit to take out a standard loan through a bank. Payday loans shops allow users to pay a fee to borrow a certain amount of money. For example, a consumer will on average pay $60 to borrow $300 for 14 days. After 2 weeks, the borrower must pay the entire loan and fee back in one payment. If the borrower cannot pay the loan back, then he or she can get an extension but will need to pay another $60 for the additional time.
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ZestCash says that the average payday loan gets rolled over 6 times, which means the average borrower pays $420 in fees to borrow $300 in principal. In 2010, 30 million Americans took out a payday loan. ZestCash basically offers a better alternative for those who are forced to take out these immediate loans. With ZestCash, borrowers pick how much money they want to borrow and for how long. As they pick their loan terms, the company clearly displays their weekly payment, allowing users to adjust the terms to arrive at a payment that is manageable for them. Instead of paying the money back in one big balloon payment, borrowers can pay back their loans in small chunks over time.
The company allows users to borrow between $300 and $800 and ic currently available in four states— Utah, Idaho, Missouri and South Dakota. In terms of payments, ZestCash auto debits people’s accounts on the dates their payments are scheduled for. And while most payday loans are processed through brick and mortar shops, ZestCash operates solely online. When someone signs up for a loan they also get a full payment schedule of when every payment will come out of their account, and can pay back the loan between three and eight months. The startup also promises flexibility when dealing with individual borrowers and late payments.