IDA FAQs

Eligibility

Q: Does my partner’s or spouse’s income count?

A: Yes, we look at household income. This includes domestic partnerships, live-in partners and dependents. Roommates do not count toward household income.

Q: What sort of income counts?

A: All sources of income or benefits count toward your eligibility, whether it is earned or unearned income. The federal government classifies earned income as:

  • Wages, salaries, tips, and other taxable employee pay
  • Union strike benefits
  • Long-term disability benefits received prior to minimum retirement age
  • Money you pay yourself through self-employment

Forms of unearned income are:

  • Interest and dividends
  • Retirement income
  • Social Security
  • Unemployment Benefits
  • Alimony or child support

Q: Does credit history affect my eligibility for the IDA program?

A: No, we do not look at credit history as part of the eligibility criteria for the IDA program.

Q: Can both my spouse and I get an IDA grant if our businesses are different?

A: Both you and your spouse can enroll in the program. However, only two IDAs are permitted per household at the same time. It’s important to remember that submitting an application does not mean you are accepted into the program. Priority consideration is given to applicants who face the greatest barriers to financial inclusion and asset accumulation.

Q: Can both my business partner and I enroll in the IDA program?

A: Yes. It’s important to remember that submitting an application does not mean you are accepted into the program. Priority consideration is given to applicants who face the greatest barriers to financial inclusion and asset accumulation.

Timing 

Q: Do I have to take the classes before applying?

A: Yes. Applicants must have completed one of the following classes prior to applying for the IDA program. (Note: If the class was taken outside of  Mercy Corps Northwest you will need to submit proof of completion.)

  • Mercy Corps NW Master Your Credit Seminar
  • Mercy Corps NW Business Foundations I
  • Mercy Corps NW Rebuilding Your Foundations
  • Mercy Corps NW Business Plan Workshop 
  • Other business classes taken through other organizations can be considered for credit towards the requirements. Proof of class completion in the form of a certificate or letter from an instructor will be required to process your application. If you have taken a business class that comprises at least 12 hours, feel free to run it by us at ida.mcnw@mercycorps.org.

Once enrolled, participants will be required to take a financial education course and will be encouraged to participate in additional small business counseling and seminar classes.

Q: Do I need to take classes after I am accepted into the program?

A: Yes, once enrolled, participants will be required to take one of the following financial education courses at least one month before reaching their savings goal (both courses are free to MCNW IDA participants): 

  • DevNW Financial Foundations: View upcoming classes and register here
  • FDIC Money Smart Financial Education training: To register and take a class click here.

Other financial education courses may be substituted for the above courses on a case-by-case basis, depending on if they meet the curriculum standards. 

In addition to the required financial education course, IDA participants are encouraged to participate in other MCNW small business classes, one-on-one counseling sessions, and seminars while they are saving for their IDA. Upon enrolling in the IDA program, participants will be given a discount code to attend some MCNW education offerings at a discount.

Q: Can I just come up with the money and not wait 13 months?

A: No – 13 months is the minimum savings period and you are required to make monthly deposits while you save. Funds are deposited into a custodial bank account established for the sole purpose of the IDA.

In total, participants can save anywhere from 13 to 24 months.

Q: Can I get an IDA only once?

A: No. You are eligible to apply for a second IDA one year after the date of completion for your first IDA. We prioritize applicants with demonstrated sales and revenue and actively growing businesses. The same qualifications will apply in relation to income, net worth, and Oregon residency. 

Key qualifications include:

  • Demonstrating that 65% or more of your current income is coming from your business
  • Submission of a profit and loss statement for one year
  • No purchases for the second IDA can duplicate purchases from your first IDA 

All eligible applicants will need to complete a Rebuilding Your Foundations class.

Use of funds

Q: What can I use the money for? I need some help.

A: The goal is to invest in long-term business assets that will increase your capacity or help you operate more effectively and efficiently.

Purchases have to be directly related to business startup or expansion, must be clearly laid out in a business plan, 

Vehicle purchases are approved only by exception for businesses for which it is their primary asset purchase (delivery business, taxi, food cart or truck, and farming vehicles for agricultural purposes). Vehicles for personal use or other purposes are not eligible.

IDA funds cannot be used to pay off existing debt or as working capital such as paying utilities, employees or any recurring bills.

Some examples of eligible (ok) purchases are as follows:

  • Tools
  • Equipment
  • Supplies
  • Marketing 
  • Website enhancement
  • Rental/lease during startup phase
  • Professional fees
  • Business or professional education
  • Business insurance and license 

Q: Can I use the money for training?

A: Business and professional education is an allowable purchase. 

Q: What if I already bought my equipment—can I reimburse myself?

A: No – the IDA program does not pay off pre-existing debt or reimburse you for any purchases made prior to your disbursal window. You are not eligible to make IDA purchases until you have completed all program requirements and signed your disbursal paperwork. 

Miscellaneous

Q: Can I apply for the program at any time?

A: No. IDA application period opens up four times a year. Typically the application period is open for 3-4 hours. If you are interested to receive a notification about the next application period please fill out IDA Expression of Interest here.

Q: How can I apply for the program?

A: Once the application window is open you can fill out our application online OR by emailing or mailing us the completed paper application form. If you are unable to apply online or via email and need special accommodations, please contact ida.mcnw@mercycorps.org. We will try to find solutions.

Q: What happens once I’m enrolled? How does it work?

A: Once you are enrolled, you will work with a staff member to create a savings plan and open an IDA savings account. You will start saving for your goal while taking financial education classes and working on your business plan. Mercy Corps NW will set aside your matching amount – $5 for every $1 you save! The matching amount will be available for you to use once you have completed all the program requirements. The amount you are required to save is $1,000. Your timeline will depend on your ability to save this amount. Typically, you are expected to save for at least 13 months or up to 2 years.

For example: Your savings goal is $1,000. You have an IDA with a 5:1 match rate ($5 for every $1 you save). 

  • If you are able to save $84 every month, you will reach your savings goal in 13 months, and will be eligible for $5,000 in match, for a combined $6,000 to put towards your goal.
  • If you are able to save $42 every month, you will reach your savings goal in 24 months, and will be eligible for $5,000 in match, for a combined $6,000 to put towards your goal.

Q: Will you let me know when the next application window is open?

A: If you are interested to receive a notification about the next application period please fill out IDA Expression of Interest here.

Q: Do I have to complete a business plan?

A: You are not required to have your business plan ready for the application process. All IDA program participants are, however, required to complete a business plan as part of their IDA requirements at least one month before they reach their savings goal.  Don’t worry – we will help you along the way, and have templates for you to use.

Q: Do we have to give Mercy Corps access to our checking account?

A: Once you enroll in the program we have you set up a custodial bank account with a partner bank in Mercy Corps Northwest’s name and your name. This is how we track your monthly savings. You will not have permission to access your account without our written permission. If you exit the program, Mercy Corps Northwest will always sign off for you to access your funds. Mercy Corps Northwest never touches your savings.

Q: Do I have to pay taxes on my IDA grant funds?

A: No. The match money is considered a gift at the time it is paid out to purchase the eligible asset. It is NOT taxable income to the Participant. Below you will find information sheet for IDA related Tax Issues:

Still have questions? We encourage you to contact the IDA team at ida.mcnw@mercycorps.org