Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Alternative" Financial Institutions

"Alternative Financial Institution" is an unfortunate choice of terms because in some contexts it means useful organizations such as Community Development Financial Institutions.  In the context of this post, however, the term is better viewed as a synonym for vulture. In an editorial on July 17th, the Virginian-Pilot said this:  “If predatory lenders had a trade publication – say, “Usury Today” – they’d undoubtedly rank Virginia near the top in annual roundups of the best places in the nation to do business.”

These institutions (vultures, predatory lenders, or whatever other pejorative you wish to use) include pay day lenders and short-term car title lenders both of which, in my opinion, exist to take advantage of people who are down and out. In Virginia, a car title lender is restricted, if you can call it a restriction, to charging not more than 22% per MONTH. That’s right, these people (for want of a better family rated term) can charge 22% per month.  The law, in its infinite mercy (recognize the sarcasm?), does not allow compounding so 22% per month is  264% per year. Virginia law allows that highest rate on the first $700 borrowed. Interest on the next $700 is “only” 18% per month. Above $1,400, a real bargain rate kicks in, 15% per month.  Another crumb offered by the law -- up front fees are limited actual costs of  recording a lien on the motor vehicle.
Tuesday afternoon (July 17) the Chesterfield County Planning Commission, of which I am a member, heard a staff presentation of a proposed ordinance to regulate where in the county alternative financial institutions might be located along with other restrictions.  In a private conversation with me, one attorney noted the proposal would allow these operations in only 3 locations in the county. My unspoken thought was, “that many?” I let staff, including the assistant county attorney assigned to advise the Planning Commission, know that I want an ordinance as restrictive as possible, given limits placed on the county by state law and judicial precedence.  I clearly expressed my opinion of these operations during the work session when I said, “They take people who are in a hole (and) instead of handing them a ladder, they hand them a shovel.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch has as article today reporting on this part of the Commission’s meeting.
For more information, see this earlier Pilot Online article headlined, “New data shows car title loans big business in Va.”

The above article reports that repossession rates are about 6.5% of loans made resulted in repossession of the motor vehicle (8,378 repos out of 128,500 loans). However, the article also reports 105,542 different individuals took out those 128,500 loans making the repo rate per individual borrower be over 7.9%. Repossession rates on auto loans financed by traditional means (banks, credit unions, new car dealers) don't seem to be readily available although using rough numbers and reasonable assumptions, that rate appears to be not more than the 3% to 4% range.

As always, comments are welcome. 

Edited on July 24 to provide a working link to the news article, “New data shows car title loans big business in Va.”

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