The firms operating within the usury cap turned away roughly half of all applicants and tended to make larger loans to married men with steady jobs and decent incomes. Have you ever heard about this? Consumers who get a shorter term loan are often young, such as parents who need money to pay bills that have mounted up. Roadside assistance program fees: To give you an example, if you got payday advance loans on the 5th day of the month.
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They presented themselves as legitimate and operated openly out of offices. They only sought customers who had a steady and respectable job, a regular income and a reputation to protect. This made them less likely to leave the area before they paid their debt and more likely to have a legitimate reason for borrowing money.
Gamblers, criminals, and other disreputable, unreliable types were avoided. They made the borrower fill out and sign seemingly legitimate contracts. Though these contracts were not legally enforceable, they at least were proof of the loan, which the lender could use to blackmail a defaulter.
To force a defaulter into paying, the lender might threaten legal action. This was a bluff, since the loan was illegal. The lender preyed on the borrower's ignorance of the law.
Alternatively, the lender resorted to public shaming, exploiting the social stigma of being in debt to a loan shark.
They were able to complain to the defaulter's employer, because many employers would fire employees who were mired in debt, because of the risk of them stealing from the employer to repay debts. They were able to send agents to stand outside the defaulter's home, loudly denouncing him, perhaps vandalizing his home with graffiti or notices. Whether out of gullibility or embarrassment, the borrower usually succumbed and paid.
Many customers were employees of large firms, such as railways or public works. Larger organizations were more likely to fire employees for being in debt, as their rules were more impersonal, which made blackmail easier. It was easier for lenders to learn which large organizations did this as opposed to collecting information on the multitude of smaller firms. Larger firms had more job security and the greater possibility of promotion, so employees sacrificed more to ensure they were not fired.
The loan shark could also bribe a large firm's paymaster to provide information on its many employees. Regular salaries and paydays made negotiating repayment plans simpler. The size of the loan and the repayment plan were often tailored to suit the borrower's means. The smaller the loan, the higher the interest rate was, as the costs of tracking and pursuing a defaulter the overhead were the same whatever the size of the loan. The attitudes of lenders to defaulters also varied: Because salary lending was a disreputable trade, the owners of these firms often hid from public view, hiring managers to run their offices indirectly.
To further avoid attracting attention, when expanding his trade to other cities, an owner would often found new firms with different names rather than expanding his existing firm into a very noticeable leviathan. The penalties for being an illegal lender were mild. Illegal lending was a misdemeanor , and the penalty was forfeiture of the interest and perhaps the principal as well.
But these were only ever imposed if the borrower sued, which he typically could not afford to do. Opposition to salary lenders was spearheaded by social elites, such as businessmen and charity organizations. Businessmen were encouraged not to fire employees who were indebted to loan sharks, as they unwittingly supported the industry by providing lenders with a means of blackmailing their customers "pay up or we'll tell your boss and you'll be fired".
Charities provided legal support to troubled borrowers. This fight culminated in the drafting of the Uniform Small Loan Law, which brought into existence a new class of licensed lender. The law was enacted, first in several states in , and was adopted by all but a handful of states by the middle of the 20th century.
Lenders had to give the customer copies of all signed documents. Additional charges such as late fees were banned. The lender could no longer receive power of attorney or confession of judgment over a customer. These licensing laws made it impossible for usurious lenders to pass themselves off as legal.
Small loans also started becoming more socially acceptable, and banks and other larger institutions started offering them as well. In the s and s, American prosecutors began to notice the emergence of a new breed of illegal lender that used violence to enforce debts.
The new small lender laws had made it almost impossible to intimidate customers with a veneer of legality, and many customers were less vulnerable to shaming because they were either self-employed or already disreputable. Thus, violence was an important tool, though not their only one. These loan sharks operated more informally than salary lenders, which meant more discretion for the lender and less paperwork and bureaucracy for the customer.
They were also willing to serve high-risk borrowers that legal lenders wouldn't touch. Threats of violence were rarely followed through, however. One possible reason is that injuring a borrower could have meant he couldn't work and thus could never pay off his debt. Many regular borrowers realized the threats were mostly bluffs and that they could get away with delinquent payments. A more certain consequence was that the delinquent borrower would be cut off from future loans, which was serious for those who regularly relied on loan sharks.
One important market for violent loan sharks was illegal gambling operators, who couldn't expose themselves to the law to collect debts legally. They cooperated with loan sharks to supply credit and collect payments from their punters.
Thieves and other criminals, whose fortunes were frequently in flux, were also served, and these connections also allowed the loan sharks to operate as fences. Violent loansharking was typically run by criminal syndicates, such as the Mafia. Many of these were former bootleggers who needed a new line of work after the end of Prohibition. Towards the s, loan sharks grew ever more coordinated, and could pool information on borrowers to better size up risks and ensure a borrower did not try to pay off one loan by borrowing from another loan shark.
The fearsome reputation of the Mafia or similar large gang made the loan shark's threat of violence more credible. Although the reform law was intended to starve the loan sharks into extinction, this species of predatory lender thrived and evolved.
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