As the financial crisis continues to dampen the global economy, a popular online microlender to third world countries,, has now begun to offer loans to low-income entrepreneurs in the U.S., nonprofit company, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, Calif., began a pilot expansion that would allow individuals to make small loans to cash-strapped U.S. entrepreneurs through Kiva’s platform.

The U.S. listings will start with about 45 businesses in Boston, Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco and New York.

Kiva connects individual borrowers or entrepreneurs with lenders who make direct loans of as little as $25. The money is then pooled to finance loans that typically range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The repayments don't include interest; people either get their original $25, keep it in the lending pot or can chose to donate it to support Kiva's administrative expenses.

Kiva's president Premal Shah said they did not originally plan to help raise money for aspiring businesses in the world's largest economy, but the current economic crisis has led more banks to cut back on lending.

In the U.S. market, the non-profit is working through two partners: ACCION USA and the Opportunity Fund in the Bay Area.

To date, more than half-a-million lenders from 185 countries have provided more than $75 million in small loans, according to Kiva. Remarkably, the current rate of repayment of those loans is 98.35 percent.