Loan sharksState lawmakers have been taking a spring break this week and given the flood of disturbing bills introduced of late, it’s enough to make you wish they’d just stay away. Two new anti-consumer bills pushed by predatory industries make for classic cases in point.

As is detailed on the main NC Policy Watch site this morning by veteran bankruptcy attorney William Brewer, Number One is the proposal to introduce wage garnishment in North Carolina for general debts like credit card bills. As Brewer explains, this proposal would end a nearly 150 year-old rule in North Carolina that general creditors cannot seize money from people that is necessary to support their families.  It would also unleash a a bevy of predatory national profiteers that buy up old consumer debt for pennies on the dollar and, perhaps most disturbingly, spark a wave of bankruptcies. Here’s Brewer:

“As practical matter, the only refuge for such an unfortunate wage earner will be to file bankruptcy. But here’s the rest of the story: North Carolina has one of the lowest bankruptcy filing rates in the nation. For the first quarter of 2014, the national average for bankruptcies was 3.23 for every 1,000 people. North Carolina ranked 40th among the states with a rate of 1.82.

By contrast, the rates in our sister states in the southeast that allow with wage garnishment along the lines of Senator Brock’s proposal are the highest in the nation. Tennessee is first with a rate that’s 350% of North Carolina’s. Georgia and Alabama are second and third with three times the North Carolina rate. Virginia has a rate 70% higher than North Carolina. South Carolina, which has no wage garnishment, has a filing rate 13% lower.

The conclusion from all this is inescapable: if the General Assembly and Gov. McCrory enact a law that dramatically expands wage garnishment in our state, bankruptcy filings will soar by 200-300%.”

Sadly. debt buyer lobbyists aren’t the only ones pushing lawmakers to soak struggling consumers. The high-interest finance companies are back with yet another bill to jack up rates on small consumer loans — i.e. the ones they succeeded in raising just a couple years ago.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer explains this morning, the new bill would send effective interest rates on these loans into the stratosphere: Read More

Photo: MoneyMutual

Photo: MoneyMutual

There is another small ray of good news today in the long-term battle to rid the nation of the predatory scalawags in the payday loan racket. After years as serving as the well-compensated barker for the sharks at MoneyMutual, TV pitchman Montel Williams has announced that he will stop endorsing the company. The announcement came just a day after the New York Department of Financial Services announced a settlement with owners of MoneyMutual that prohibits the company from doing business in New York and requires it to pay a $2.1 million penalty. Give you any ideas, Attorney General Cooper?

This is from the settlement announcement:

Superintendent [of Financial Services Benjamin] Lawsky said: “Using Mr. Williams’s reputation as a trusted celebrity endorser, MoneyMutual marketed loans to struggling consumers with sky-high interest rates – sometimes in excess of 1,300 percent – that trapped New Yorkers in destructive cycles of debt. The company made special efforts to target the more than 55 percent of their customers who were ‘repeat clients’ – including so-called ‘Gold’ customers who took out a new loan to pay off a previous loan. We are pleased that they have agreed to resolve this matter and stop marketing these illegal, usurious loans to New York consumers. Our investigation into the lead generation industry continues.”

Today’s MoneyMutual agreement is the first successful enforcement action against a payday loan “lead generation” company penalizing it for its unlawful conduct. Lead generation firms do not typically make payday loans directly, but instead set up websites marketing those illegal loans. Through promises of easy access to quick cash, the lead generation companies entice consumers to provide them with sensitive personal information such as social security and bank account numbers, and then sell that information to payday lenders operating unlawfully in New York and other states. In December 2013, DFS issued subpoenas to 16 online “lead generation” firms, including Selling Source/MoneyMutual, which were suspected of deceptive or misleading marketing of illegal, online payday loans in New York.

Let’s hope state officials keep Selling Source (aka “MoneyMutual”) on the run and that, at some point, Mr. Williams offers a public apology to the thousands upon thousands of vulnerable Americans he’s helped connect to these sharks. We won’t get our hopes up, though, that he returns the gazillions of dollars he’s no doubt been paid or, better yet, donates it to a worthy cause.


Fort BraggThere’s word from the General Assembly that the consumer finance industry is unhappy with state law designed to help protect active members of the military from exploitation. In case you’ve forgotten, the consumer finance industry runs more than 400 storefront shops throughout North Carolina that make loans featuring high interest rates and fees. The loans are often packed with junk insurance products and customers are also routinely “flipped” from one loan to another.

The provision at issue (G.S. 53-180.1) was enacted last year as part of legislation that gave the industry the authority to significantly raise the amounts it charges for loans. While failing to protect the rest of us from these predatory lending practices, the General Assembly was shamed into including some modest protections for military service members, whose paychecks are often targeted by the industry. The provision requires lenders to make sure that they do not extend loans to lower ranking enlisted personnel without at least notifying their commanding officers. It also prevents lenders from trying to collect on loans via phone or email from service members or their spouses while the service member is deployed to a dangerous area.

Now, less than a year after the protections were enacted, it appears that at least some lenders want the law (or its enforcement) weakened. For some time, it has been rumored that industry lobbyists have been working on such an effort and recently, insiders report, an industry representative confirmed the rumor.

In addition to raising the real prospect that junior service members could be exploited before heading off to Afghanistan or some other dangerous venue, such a potential change also raises important political issues in the Senate race between Senator Kay Hagan and House Speaker Thom Tillis. Read More


Loan sharksThere’s a common perception in the General Assembly these days that storefront consumer finance shops are not as bad a payday lenders. Indeed, this has been a common explanation offered by members of the Senate as they advanced legislation in recent weeks that will jack up the interest rates on consumer finance loans. 

If this is true, however, the difference between the two predators is just a matter of degrees, not basic characteristics. If payday lenders  are the great white shark of small loan predators, then finance companies are the tiger sharks. This truth is made clear in a new and powerful article from the muckrakers at the national news website, Pro Publica entitled “The 182 Percent Loan: How Installment Lenders Put Borrowers in a World of Hurt.” Read More


Loan sharks…that high-interest loan companies in North Carolina “haven’t had a rate increase in 30 years”  tell him/her that this statement is, in a word, baloney (and feel free to use a stronger word).

#1: Inflation for lenders is accounted for through the issuance of larger and larger loans, not higher and higher interest rates. As with home and car loans, the average finance company loan in North Carolina 30 years ago was much smaller than it is today. It is simply absurd to even imply Read More