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A third of our clients have had nuisance calls offering them payday loans. That’s the shocking finding from our latest research into the scale of nuisance calls to those in debt.
Tempting offers of easy-to-apply-for payday loans can be a real source of stress for many people, and today we’re asking for unsolicited calls and texts offering high-cost credit to be banned.
Last October saw the launch of our Got Their Number campaign, which focused on the harm caused by unsolicited marketing calls and texts.
Our initial research found that people struggling with debt were particularly vulnerable when it came to the marketing of high-cost credit, often being offered products that worsened their financial position. Recently we followed this up this to understand better how unsolicited marketing of high-cost credit harms those in debt.
We carried out a poll with 1,000 people who contacted our helpline and found that shockingly a third of our clients have had nuisance calls offering high-cost payday loans. On average these clients say they receive a whopping 10 calls per week, however some receive many more.
Unfortunately we found this marketing can have a terrible impact on people’s lives: 15% of those who had been called ended up applying for the credit offered. The additional debt they ended up with averaged £980. We’ve little doubt that this added debt burden only made things tougher to deal with.
Nuisance contact continues to a problem, and we want it to stop.
How does nuisance contact affect our clients?
We were curious to know what goes through a person’s mind when they receive these messages: are they really as dangerous as we think?
After reading the following quotes from two of our clients, we’ll let you decide:
So now that we know how serious the problem is, what’s being done about it?
New payday lending regulations
On 1 July 2014, a number of new rules on payday lending from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) came into force. The FCA has taken great strides to make consumer credit practices fairer and safer for thousands of people. That said, the promotion of high-cost credit such as payday loans via unsolicited marketing is still very much in force.
We’re urging the FCA to take a closer look at the problem of unsolicited marketing of credit. We also believe that an outright ban on this kind of contact is the way forward.
What you can do to help?
If you’ve had to deal with unsolicited and unwanted contact from telemarketers, tweet us about it with the hashtag #GotTheirNumber.
A screengrab of the text message would really help us build a body of evidence of just how out of hand unsolicited contact has become. (Find out how to take a screen capture on a mobile phone)
You can also email us with your thoughts and screengrabs at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can try to stop unsolicited high-cost credit being offered to those with debt problems.
Friends and family pay respects at crime scene and in court as accused has name suppression extended.
Flooded farm land in the far north after a storm battered the top of the North Island. Photo / Dean Purcell
One of the men killed in a pawn shop in south Auckland on Saturday had recently returned from helping flood victims in Northland, a witness says.
A number of people laid flowers outside the Ezy Cash loan store on Great South Rd in Takanini yesterday, where police were still examining the scene.
Nichola Popata laid a flower made from flax at a makeshift tribute site to the two men, who she described as “beautiful” and very friendly.
“I just wanted to come and pay my respects to Paul Matthews and Paul Fanning, to just share the love with their whanau and let them know we’re thinking about them at this time,” she said.
She had been “shattered” to hear of their deaths, she said, particularly as she had been in the store on Friday, the day before the deaths.
“I was just here on Friday doing some paperwork with them, they were comfortable, easy to talk to,” she said. “We just shared stories.”
Mr Matthews told her how he had recently returned from a 13-hour round trip to Northland, where he was helping his family who had been trapped by last week’s flooding. He had used his four-wheel drive to create a clearing, and “everybody else was able to follow him in a convoy coming out the back of Dargaville roads,” she said.
Ms Popata said she would remember Mr Fanning as a happy man.
“[He] always stands there and laughs and giggles and says, ‘Oh that’s not my job, go see Paul’.”
She was “quite sad to hear what had happened”.
Both men were “big, stocky guys”, and she had been surprised to hear they had been killed in the store.
Other store workers in the area, who did not want to be named, described the men as “fantastic” and “great guys”, who were well liked in the community.
Many were still in shock after the incident, questioning why it had happened.
Two forensic tents were erected yesterday outside the shop, which was cordoned off.
The 25-year-old man accused of murdering the men has had his name suppression extended.
He appeared in Papakura District Court yesterday charged with the murder of the store’s owner Mr Fanning, 69, and his employee Mr Matthews, 47.
The accused was arrested in Huntly on Saturday night. A woman, who was seen leaving the premises with him, was being treated as a witness, police said at the weekend.
The accused stood in the dock yesterday, dressed in a dark T-shirt with a white logo and dark trousers, and was supported in court by his partner, parents and extended family members.
The public gallery of the court was packed to capacity with family members of both the accused and the victims.
Many were upset, and wiped tears from their eyes. Others stood hugging each other in support.
During the sitting one woman shouted at the double-murder accused, calling him “scum”.
Duty lawyer Kersie Khambatta argued that the accused should be granted name suppression to protect his young family.
He has two young children – a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter – with his partner.
Mr Khambatta said the children, and the accused’s younger sister who was still at school, would be subject to “jeers” and harassment from their classmates if his name was published.
There was also a fear that other family members would be identified by association and would be put “at risk”.
“They say that people out there are very angry and non-suppression of details mean that they would be in danger,” Mr Khambatta said.
The accused was granted interim name suppression by Justice of the Peace Tony Charman until 4pm yesterday. However, the accused appealed the interim decision and took it to the High Court.
Justice John Faire extended name suppression until the man’s next court appearance in August. He was remanded in custody.
Breaking into the home equity nest egg is becoming a very real possibility for more Americans as home prices rise. But raiding the house bank is not as easy as it was before the recession, and not everyone meets the requirements to borrow from home equity.
Consumers must have a trifecta of enough equity, a high credit score and a healthy relationship between their debt and income to take money out of their house via a cash-out refinance, home equity loan or home equity line of credit, also called a HELOC.
Home equity loan
A second mortgage for a fixed amount, at a fixed interest rate, to be repaid over a set period.
Home equity line of credit (HELOC)
A second mortgage with a revolving balance, like a credit card, with an interest rate that varies with the prime rate. Pronounced HE-lock.
A mortgage refinance for more than the amount owed. The borrower takes the difference in cash. Also called a cash-out refi.
“The standards were already fairly tight, but now with a lower volume of refis being done, you have more people looking at every file,” says Paul Anastos, president of Mortgage Master Inc. “There’s more scrutiny from banks and the agencies.”
You can extract equity in multiple ways
Some banks remain hesitant to offer equity lines of credit to homeowners. Lenders also must follow stricter mortgage rules that went into effect this year about a consumer’s ability to repay the debt.
Some lenders offer HELOCs as well as home equity loans and cash-out refinances.
“I have only one lender, U.S. Bank, that does HELOCs, but they must have the first mortgage,” says John Stearns, a senior mortgage banker with American Fidelity Mortgage in Milwaukee. “As for cash-out refis, I do those every once in awhile and am doing one now.”
Stearns said the borrower is taking out $50,000 in home equity. After the loan closes, the borrower will still have a 40 percent stake in the property. That translates to a healthy 60 percent loan-to-value ratio, or LTV — a figure that reflects how much debt remains on the property. The lower the ratio, the better.
You need lots of equity to borrow from it
Home prices rose year over year for the 22nd straight month in March, according to the SandP/Case-Shiller index of home prices. That run helped 4 million mortgaged properties regain equity in 2013 and boosted Americans’ overall stakes in their homes to over 50 percent for the first time in six years.
Still, lenders require a hefty amount of equity before homeowners can borrow against their home. In general, a homeowner cashing out into a fixed-rate mortgage must have at least 15 percent equity left over, or a loan-to-value ratio of 85 percent, according to rules spelled out by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee the majority of U.S. home loans.
If the homeowner chooses an adjustable-rate mortgage when cashing out, then the maximum LTV is 75 percent. The LTV requirements for cash-out refis differ even more if the home is a second house, an investment property, a mobile home or a multiple-unit dwelling.
For HELOCs, lenders generally want the LTV to be 80 percent or less, says Pava Leyrer, manager of training and implementation for Northern Mortgage Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“The reason why most want to keep that 20-percent stake is because it will cover the cost to take back the property in foreclosure and turn around and sell it,” Leyrer says.
Lenders scrutinize total debt payments
LTV is not the only key percentage to tap home equity. The ratio between a consumer’s total debt and income is also part of the qualification equation. And again, the lower the percentage, the better. The magic number, according to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is 45 percent.
Lenders will add up the total monthly payment for the house, which includes principal, interest, taxes, homeowners insurance, direct liens and home association dues along with any other outstanding debt that is a legal liability. That can include child support, installment loans, credit card bills, IRS payments and even student loans that are not yet being repaid, Leyrer says.
That total debt is divided by a borrower’s gross monthly income, which is comprised of base salary, commissions, bonuses and any other income such as rental income or on-time, up-to-date spousal support.
“Lenders want to see if after making your monthly debt payments, is there any money left over at the end of the month,” says Dave Norris, president and chief operating officer of loanDepot.com.
And then there’s the credit score
Even if a borrower’s income shows ability to repay the loan, that doesn’t mean the borrower will, Norris says. That’s where a borrower’s credit score comes in. For HELOCs, Leyrer says most borrowers with a credit score between 660 and 680 will probably qualify, but a score of 700 is “more of a shoo-in.”
For cash-out refis, generally, the lowest credit score on a home that the borrower lives in is 640, according to Fannie Mae’s standards. But such a loan comes with caveats. The borrower can’t have an LTV ratio higher than 75 percent, must have six months of reserves in the bank and a debt-to-income ratio of 36 percent or lower. Those stipulations disappear as the credit score, LTV or debt to income improves.
Requirements for cash-out refinance on primary home
36% or lessmore than 75%680n/a36% or less75% or less660n/a36% or lessmore than 75%660636% or less75% or less640645% or lessmore than 75%700n/a45% or less75% or less680n/a45% or lessmore than 75%680245% or less75% or less6602
Source: Fannie Mae
“They all play off one another,” says Norris. “You would also get a better interest rate as each factor improves.”
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Tiffany Kelker was stuck.
In January 2011, finding herself in need of some financial assistance after the holidays, she had taken out a $600 “payday loan” from an online lending business that advertised fast cash.
In the ensuing months, however, the Billings, Mont., mother of five watched as the company withdrew money electronically from her bank account, according to court documents. Eventually the lender took more than $1,800 in interest charges alone, which court records calculated as an annual percentage rate of 780 percent.
Kelker would eventually file suit against Geneva Roth Ventures Inc., an Internet-based lending operation headquartered in Mission, Kan.
The Montana case was only the latest in a collection of legal issues involving Geneva Roth and its CEO, Mark Curry. Several other states already had barred the company from doing business, according to court records.
The Montana case highlights the controversial tactics such companies use – and the increased scrutiny their tactics have attracted from state and federal agencies.
“Payday lending is right up there among our top issues,” said Nikhil Singhvi, staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission.
Those companies that make up the industry can be hard to track.
The office listed on Kansas paperwork as the Geneva Roth headquarters in Mission features no sign in front, although state records still list it as an active company.
Despite multiple attempts, Curry could not be reached for comment for this story. Curry’s Montana lawyer issued a statement on his behalf, however, saying Geneva Roth is no longer in business and was happy to resolve the Montana case.
‘Wild West mentality’
Whatever the status of Geneva Roth, Curry established himself as a significant figure within the industry. He was an early member of the Online Lenders Alliance, a group founded in 2005 purportedly to serve as a kind of industry watchdog.
The goal of the alliance, according to its website, is “to protect the industry against potential damage caused by inept lenders.”
“Like many new Internet industries, it can be a little bit of a Wild West mentality,” said Peter Barden, a spokesman for the alliance. “And the folks that brought it together wanted to create some really good rules based on integrity, with the focus on the consumer.”
But while industry proponents argue that online payday lenders offer an important and quick form of financial relief not available elsewhere, critics accuse these companies of charging exorbitant interest rates, failing to adequately inform consumers about fees and trapping vulnerable individuals.
In recent years, numerous state agencies have joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and FTC to crack down on predatory lenders.
In Arkansas, for instance, Geneva Roth agreed to pay $60,000 to the attorney general’s office after the state argued that the company’s annual interest rate for its customers ranged from 364 percent to 1,365 percent – exponentially higher than the 17 percent loan interest rate the state’s constitution allows.
(Although the defendants – Geneva Roth Capital Inc., Geneva Roth Ventures Inc., LoanPointUSA.com and Curry – denied violating any Arkansas laws, they agreed to stop doing business in the state. In this lawsuit, as in others, Geneva Roth was listed as doing business as LoanPoint.)
Kansas officials said they had received no complaints against Geneva Roth, and complaints in Missouri are not public record.
But in Connecticut, a cease-and-desist order issued by the state banking commissioner accused Geneva Roth of charging multiple customers interest rates in excess of 700 percent. Other states – including California, Indiana, Oregon and Washington – also have banned Geneva Roth from doing business within their boundaries.
And then there was Kelker’s case in Montana.
As loan payments were continually taken from her bank account, Kelker fell behind on other bills. Unsure what to do, she found herself locked in a nightmarish situation.
“I thought, how am I going to get these people off my back?” Kelker said. “Because it just felt like there was no end to the madness. I was paying them and paying them and paying them, but there was just no end.”
After a meeting with a consumer credit counselor aimed at managing some of her debt, Kelker was referred to Montana-based attorney John Heenan, who agreed to take her case pro bono.
The case would later grow into a class action lawsuit that included more than 380 Montana residents.
In court filings, Geneva Roth denied Kelker’s allegations, adding that because any loans were made outside the state of Montana, the claims didn’t fall under state law.
In the end, however, the company agreed to forgive outstanding debts, according to court documents, and Heenan said that totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Curry’s company also agreed to pay a $233,000 settlement, most of which was dispersed among the plaintiffs, and cease business dealings in Montana unless it registers with the state, according to court records.
Heenan describes the online lending industry as a “cat and mouse” game, with some lenders going to great lengths to remain a step ahead of regulators. Some, for instance, have moved into Native American tribal jurisdictions or overseas as a way to avoid prosecution. Others operate under a variety of names in an effort to make their companies’ dealings difficult to track.
And unlike storefront lenders, which feature concrete business locations, online lenders often work in the shadows of the Internet.
“That can add a level of complexity for the consumer that a storefront won’t have,” said Singhvi of the FTC, which has reached settlements with some companies stemming from alleged deceptive practices. “Because a consumer can very easily go back to a store and resolve any consumer complaint face to face.”
Finding the players
Tucked into suburban Johnson County, the building listed on a state business filing as Geneva Roth Ventures Inc. sits on a quiet residential street, not far from a Target and a collection of fast-food restaurants. The building itself is rather unremarkable – unlike other nearby businesses, there are no signs indicating what services it might offer.
“I don’t know what they do,” said an employee at a neighboring business. “I don’t know if they’re a call center or what.”
On a recent weekday, a receptionist at the building told a Star reporter that Curry was unavailable. Another employee offered to take the reporter’s information, although the message would go unreturned.
A week later, an employee arrived at the locked front door to greet a visitor.
Asked what company was operating out of the building, she initially declined to answer.
But when asked whether it was, in fact, Geneva Roth, she quickly said no.
“This is MacFarlane Group,” she replied.
Nevada records list Curry as secretary and treasurer of the MacFarlane Group. On its website, the company describes itself as being “dedicated to helping businesses succeed” and lists information technology and analytics among its services.
In an e-mail, Peter Habein, the Montana attorney who represented Curry and Geneva Roth in the Kelker case, said Geneva Roth is no longer in business.
Tracking the whereabouts of Curry himself can also be difficult.
In business filings with the state of Kansas, Curry lists a Puerto Rico address. He also has ties to Nevada, hosting a party there in 2012 for a local charity that featured a Monopoly theme and scantily clad women dressed as police officers, according to media reports.
And in multiple attempts to have Curry served with the lawsuit in Montana, Heenan was unsuccessful.
But while tracking down online lenders can often feel like chasing a ghost for everyday citizens and their lawyers, regulatory agencies, at least, seem to be catching up.
“We have the tools to trace where the money is going, so we have a pretty good handle of who’s operating,” said Singhvi of the FTC.
“Even if consumers are left in the dark.”
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Payday and auto title loans are big business in Amarillo, and city leaders will hear from two experts and the public on Monday about possibly regulating the lenders.
Data from the Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner shows there were 9,654 payday loans with single payments due made in Amarillo during 2013 and twice that many refinanced. Those transactions totaled $13 million and generated $3 million in fees.
About $6.8 million in new and refinanced auto title loans generated $1.9 million in fees in 2013. There were 2,878 new loans and 3,571 refinances.
The statistics are for the Amarillo Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Armstrong and Carson counties in addition to Potter and Randall counties.
“The issue has become more apparent to cities as more locations come in and there’s an increase in negative impact,” said Brett Merfish, one of the speakers at the Monday event and staff attorney for Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center.
“In Amarillo in 2013, there were almost 400 cars repossessed,” she said.
“(Lenders) cluster in low-income zip codes. And after (borrowers) take out a loan, they’re in worse financial shape.”
Supporters of the industry say there are good reasons they’re in less affluent neighborhoods.
They take more risks for higher rewards through inflated interest rates and provide credit to people standard institutions like banks won’t consider, payday lenders argue.
The event will start at 5:30 p.m. in the Heritage Ballroom of the Amarillo Civic Center, 401 S. Buchanan St.
Also attending and sharing their thoughts on the topic will be City Councilman Jerry Allen of Dallas, where the city regulates the businesses, and several local community groups.
“This will be your opportunity to express yourself, so pass the word,” Amarillo City Councilwoman Lilia Escajeda said of the meeting on loans that can have interest rates of more than 500 percent.
The fees aren’t light, either.
“They cost twice as much in Texas,” Merfish said. “For a $500 loan for two weeks, the fee in Florida is $55. In Texas it’s $110.”
There are ordinances in 18 Texas cities based on one put together by the Texas Municipal League to regulate the lenders.
Some of the provisions include requiring the business to register with the city, limiting the number of times a loan can be refinanced, requiring a short term for repayment with payments reducing principal by a minimum of 25 percent per payment and loans based on the borrower’s ability to repay.
One such payday loan business recently lost an enforcement battle over “unethical” and “abusive” behavior allegations.
On July 10, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a consent order in which Ace Cash Express agreed to pay a $5 million fine, $5 million in restitution and educate its workers on how to perform their jobs within the law, such as not calling past-due borrowers at work or calling third parties and telling them about the loans.
There are two Ace Cash Express locations in Amarillo.