Follow the Money: Payday Laundry Edition

09/07/13

Gretchen Morgenson is asking some interesting questions about where the money comes to fund predatory loans. The issue boils down to this:  the most questionable consumer is not done by depositories.  It's done by finance companies or (prior to 2008) by mortgage banks.  That means that these lenders need another source of funding for their loans. That could be their investors' equity, but more typically it is via lines of credit from other financial institutions. Absent lines of credit from large financial institutions, the amount of high-risk lending done in the US would likely be substantially less.

I hope that bank regulators (and Congress) start asking why banks are willing to fund loans that they aren't willing to make directly themselves because of reputational concerns. The current situation looks a lot like a rent-a-BIN variation:  instead of the bank providing the front to avoid usury laws or to enable MC/Visa card issuance, here we have the rent-a-finance-company situation, with the banks basically undertaking predatory lending behind the mask of the finance companies. Specifically, it sure looks as if NY banks were financing on-line payday lenders that made loans to NY residents at rates that violated the NY usury laws. (Let me emphasize that the issue here is not whether payday loans are good or bad--that's a separate discussion--but simply whether the NY usury laws were violated.)

It's hard to believe that the banks didn't know that the on-line loans were being made into NY. While there is a legal question about whether the on-line lenders are subject to the NY usury law, this was a risk the banks seem to have been willing to accept.  I don't know if that's enough to rise to the level to justify charges like aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy or the like (does Destro bear guilt for COBRA's actions?), but it's hard to call it anything other than payday loan laundering. 

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