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Definition. Usury is defined as the act of lending money at an unreasonably high interest rate, this rate is defined at the state level. Repayment of loans at a usurious rate makes repayment excessively difficult to impossible for borrowers. This is also called "loan sharking" or "predatory lending".

Usury has recently come back into legal conversations due to the emergence of payday loans and sub-prime lending. These types of loans are aimed at those who are at greater risk of defaulting, those with lower incomes. Payday loans are supposed to be used as short term loan to help people make it to their next paychecks by paying bills that are due before they receive it. Unfortunately these get abused and the lendees can get into further financial trouble.

Sub-prime loans, again, are for lower income individuals that are more at risk of not being able to fulfill their obligation in payments. These loans have higher rates, but obviously fall just below their state's usury level to be legal.

Many are now asking for changes in how we define usury to eliminate these types of loans.

The usury laws. predatory lending. and loan sharking rules apply more to local banks. Since the passing of a federal law stating that the state usury laws do not apply to banks that label themselves with the words "national", these banks have been able to offer loans above the state usury limit. These "national" banks are allowed to apply interest rates a number of points higher than the Federal Reserve Discount Rate. The Federal Reserve Discount Rate is the rate banks get when borrowing directly from the Federal Reserve Bank for short term funds.

However, at the Federal level, there is a criminal limit, as defined by Congress, for interest rates. This rate is twice the amount of the particular state's usury limit.

If you feel you are a victim of usury, or predatory lending, contact a lawyer or legal firm. Make sure they have experience with this type of financial law. Ask

them if they have handled usury law cases, and what their results have been.

There are a number of different lending tactics that are considered predatory lending. Some lenders dispute whether these are unethical, often citing that consumers have choices of who they get their loans from. Below are the most common practices labeled "predatory".

Fees & APR. Common compaints on predatory lending involve fees incurred which are not included in the APR. Borrowers may not know they have a no-fee line of credit, or may not be able to get a no-fee line of credit. Lenders may take advantage of this by offering a reasonable interest rate, but tacking on a fee. The APR may appear attractive, but the fee is not considered in the APR, if it were the rate would appear significantly higher.

Risk-based lending. This is the practice of charging higher interest rates to the consumers who are labeled as high-risk, meaning there is a higher risk that the consumer will not be able to pay back the loan and thus default. Lenders argue they need the higher interest rates in order to offset the losses from those that default. Consumer groups, however, counter that the higher interest rates themselves make it more difficult for the individuals to pay back the loan, and the lenders are simply price-gouging.

Credit Insurance. Lenders will push single premium credit insurance stating that the insurance will pay off the loan if the homebuyer passes away. The cost of the insurance is often added to the loan, making it more appealing since it does not have to be paid in one lump sum. This makes the loan more expensive, and compounds the interest of the insurance over the life of the loan.

Interest Negotiation. Lenders often do not tell consumers that they may be able to negotiate the interest rate of the loan. By not communicating this to the consumer, the lending company increases profits.

Interested in more? Read the Co-Sign financial blog. a personal blog on lending experiences.

Category: Payday loans

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