Business is booming for companies that reap profits from the growing number of Americans with their backs to the financial wall. Former New York Times reporter Gary Rivlin's new book Broke, USA dives into the world of pawnshops, payday lenders and the rest of the "poverty business."
The New York Times recently looked at the plight of Cortney Munna, a graduate of New York University struggling with nearly $100,000 in student loans, and asked: Should schools abet students in the process of financial self destruction, or should they follow a higher purpose?
Being in a financial tight spot is fraught with difficulty, but there are a few options to consider. Active initiatives are now available from both governmental and nonprofit groups.
In the wake of the mortgage loan mess and financial crisis, Congress was hot to regulate this business. But the federal-level effort has lost steam, partly because lawmakers seem to have come around to the industry's point of view rather than the consumer's.
Several have taken it upon themselves to restrict money stores. Most have passed zoning laws that prevent them from expanding into new locations in their city without a special permit. Says Brownsville's mayor: "Our most vulnerable citizens are easy prey for these legal loan sharks, and we want to protect our citizens by regulating them."
Preston White needed $5,000 to help his daughter relocate after serving in Iraq. Denied by his bank, he got his cash (but only $4,000) at his local Cash Store via a one-month loan. With fees and interest, he'd need to repay $5,268.50 -- giving him a 375% APR. But that's not the end of the story.
Millions of Americans are facing the worst money problems imaginable, but these same conditions are a boon for pawn shops and payday lenders. Borrowers get short-term loans at these stores using some asset as collateral -- their paycheck, or a car, or jewelry. That access to cash helps, but it comes at a cost that can be crippling.