PORTLAND - Salvador Marciel never saw himself as a homeowner in America because financing a house seemed impossible, and so did finding bankers or loan officers who spoke Spanish.

But when Marciel decided to inquire about a large loan at Salem-area banks, Spanish speakers found him.

And financing a $116,500 house for his seven-person family was easier than he thought it would be - thanks to a new push by banks to tap the buying power of Oregon's fastest-growing minority population.

"In the past there were not as many people who helped Latinos buy a house," said Marciel, a 55-year-old Mexican who began working in California as a migrant farmer in the 1970s before moving to Salem 10 years ago and establishing legal residence.

Marciel is like thousands of Oregon Hispanics whom banks have catered to in recent years.

"When the 2000 census came out, everyone woke up and smelled the burritos," said Roy Larson of Larson Northwest Research and Consulting, a firm that focuses on the Hispanic market in the Northwest.

The census counted 275,000 Hispanics living in Oregon, but Hispanic officials say the real number could be double that.

Most Hispanics have been in the state fewer than 10 years, 75 percent are under age 25, and collectively they have an estimated buying power of $2.7 billion a year. Analysts say their demographics are similar to the Baby Boomers of the 1960s because they are young and have large families.

To capitalize on the market, banks have launched initiatives aimed at getting Hispanics to borrow money. The initiatives have two components: use bilingual bankers to actively recruit Hispanic clients, and modify banking norms to better address the financial reality of many in the Hispanic community.

A lack of credit history is one such reality.

"It's a Catch 22," said Alice Perez, Hispanic market manager for U.S. Bank. "To get credit you must have a credit history. But how can you get a credit history if you can't get credit?"

Many Hispanics come from countries where only the elite use the banks or can access loans. So most do their business, from buying groceries to buying a house, with cash. They bring that custom with them to the United States.

Perez said to help Hispanics get large loans - and of course, to reap the benefits of their business - U.S. Bank launched a nationwide Hispanic initiative this past summer. Thirty-eight of the 380 branches targeted are in Oregon.

For proof of identity banks usually require a driver's license or passport, something many Hispanics don't have. U.S. Bank has altered that policy - accepting old tax forms or certificates from the Mexican Consulate. Called the "matricula consular," these certificates are issued to Mexican immigrants who typically don't have Social Security numbers or any form of U.S.-issued identification.

And now instead of the traditional credit check, which might include looking at a bank account or a credit card balance, the bank will also accept copies of old utility bills that were paid on time.

Banks all over the country have launched similar initiatives in areas with large Hispanic populations.

Many banks say they don't keep statistics based on race, but the changes seem to be working.

"There is a large increase in demand from mortgage companies for house loans and from business owners," said Susana Montalvo, a bilingual business development officer for Wells Fargo who works with Hispanic clients throughout southern Oregon. "They (Hispanics) are learning to build a credit history."

As they borrow more money, Oregon's Hispanics become less migratory and more of a permanent part of the state's demographics.

Comparatively, however, many Hispanics are still not qualifying for loans.

A recent report issued by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a national community organizing group, found that Hispanics were turned down for loans 1.5 times more often than whites.

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