banks

Changing the Subject Doesn’t Make Payday Lending in PA a Better Idea

By Mark Price, Third and State

In legislative hearings last month, proponents of a bill to legalize high-interest payday loans tried to change the subject and questioned the motives of some of their constituents. But these attempts don’t alter the fact that allowing payday lending is a bad idea. 

As we’ve explained before — and as the U.S. military, U.S. Congress, and former President George W. Bush have all agreed — payday loans are a debt trap that further impoverishes low-income families, driving more of them into bankruptcy. Pennsylvania should leave in place the strong regulations that make use of payday loans much less common here than nationally.

Here is a bit more detail on what happened at the September 19 Senate Banking and Insurance Committee hearing on House Bill 2191. Chairman Don White raised the issue of credit cards and alleged that the AARP’s opposition to payday lending was motivated by the organization’s desire to protect a credit card product it offers. At another point, Representative Chris Ross, the sponsor of the bill, warned that payday lenders currently selling a limited number of online payday loans illegally may be stealing the identities of consumers. 

Even if this were true, why does it mean we should legalize storefront payday lenders to locate in local communities throughout Pennsylvania and charge 369% annual interest rates on short-term loans? It doesn’t. 

While the strategy of House Bill 2191’s supporters was to talk as little as possible about the dangers payday lending poses for consumers, more telling was who attended the hearings. The hearing room was full of people who had driven in from around the state — Pittsburgh, Allentown, Philadelphia. Pastors, credit counselors and affordable housing groups showed up in opposition to the bill, even though they weren't testifying.  

Their presence didn’t stop some committee members from questioning the motives of an AARP volunteer and rushing the testimony of a pastor of a social service ministry and a military veteran. The only supporters of the bill were the out-of-state companies that stand to benefit financially from these 369% APR loans.

The will of the people — and the editorial boards — on payday lending is clear. Don’t legalize it. Let’s hope that the will of the people outweighs the dollars of the payday lenders in this year’s end game on this issue.

Predatory Payday Lending Bill Flies Out of Cramped PA House Committee

By Mark Price, Third and State

Room 148 of the State Capitol might as well double as a Capitol broom closet. That's where the House Consumer Affairs Committee this morning rushed out amendments to House Bill 2191, which legalizes predatory payday lending in Pennsylvania.

The amendments to HB 2191 were misleadingly pitched as adding more consumer protections to the bill. Even the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society took a look at these amendments and said they do "nothing to mitigate the already harmful aspects of HB 2191," and that one amendment "actually worsens the problem it claims to solve."

One focus of the amendments this morning was language banning renewals or rollovers of a payday loan, as if that was a solution to stopping the long-term cycle of debt. It is not.

High CEO Pay Comes Under Fire from Shareholders

By Michael Wood, Third and State

In the news today, a couple of instances of CEOs being taken to task by shareholders over excessive pay.

USA Today reports that at Citigroup, 55% of shareholders rejected or abstained from rubberstamping a $25 million payday for their CEO Vikrom Pandit. The vote is only advisory, unfortunely, but is still described as being "historic" for Wall Street firms in the aftermath of the recession. The report notes:

Wall Street's massive compensation packages have raised the ire of shareholders for years, especially when they appear to have little relation to the performance of specific executives. ...

"Citigroup is one of most egregious example of disconnect between incentives of top management and value creation of shareholders," said Mike Mayo, bank analyst at brokerage firm CLSA and author of the book "Exile on Wall Street."

"The owners of the big banks, namely the shareholders, are finally taking a greater amount of responsibility by speaking up."

Closer to home, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a story this morning about discontent at Pittsburgh-based EQT's annual shareholder meeting. Again, executive compensation seems to be at the heart of this dispute — as well as unease about natural gas production. 

Bank Swap Deals Cost Philadelphia City, School District

Large financial institutions, including many that received financial bailouts in the wake of the financial crisis, are making hundreds of millions of dollars off interest rate swaps negotiated with the City and School District of Philadelphia.

That's the key finding in a new report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. We found that swap deals negotiated with banks such as Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have cost the city and school district $331 million in net interest payments and cancellation fees. If interest rates continue to remain low, still-active swaps could cost the city another $240 million in future net interest payments.

WHYY's NewsWorks was there and posted this brief video clip.

Our report recommends that banks refund a portion of the cancellation fees they received for terminating bad deals and renegotiate those deals which are currently active.

Financial institutions have returned to profitability after the financial crisis, yet some Philadelphia schools cannot afford to keep nurses on staff. Now the banks have an opportunity to step up and help prevent more damaging cuts to schools and public safety, just as taxpayers helped the banks avoid total collapse just a few years ago.

Some other news outlets covered our release of the report yesterday. Check out the coverage.

President’s Recess Appointment Gives Watchdog Teeth It Needs To Protect Consumers From Wall Street Financial Shenanigans

By Edmund Mierzwinski and Alana Miller

Kudos to President Obama for standing up for consumers this week by making a recess appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The President’s action means that the CFPB now has all its powers to protect the public from unfair financial practices, whether by banks or other financial firms, such as payday lenders and credit bureaus.

Since July 21, the CFPB – a centerpiece of the 2010 Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – had been up and running, but only with partial powers. It is the nation’s first federal financial regulator with only one job – protecting consumers, including seniors, students and servicemembers, from unfair financial practices.

Now with a director in place, the CFPB has additional abilities that kick in, including the right to supervise payday lenders, mortgage companies, credit bureaus, debt collectors, private student lenders and other non-banks. It also now has additional powers over banks and credit card companies.

Along with civil rights, labor, senior and consumer groups, PennPIRG had long urged the Senate to confirm Cordray, the former Ohio Attorney General, to direct the CFPB. Recently, 37 state Attorneys General, on a bi-partisan basis, had sent a letter to the Senate urging confirmation.

Yet, at the behest of both the Wall Street banks and the payday lenders, some Senators had opposed confirmation of any CFPB director. 45 Senators, including Pennsylvania’s own Senator Toomey, had written the President in May and told him that they would block confirmation of any director until and unless the CFPB’s independence and authority were first restricted. Then, on December 8th, 45 Senators blocked Cordray’s nomination. They wanted the CFPB weak and powerless and with a tin cup in hand.

If our political leaders REALLY want to help small business…..

It seems like almost every other word we hear from our political leaders is about the need to support small businesses to get the economy back on track. As small business owners, there’s one simple thing that could be done that would provide almost immediate help.

Small business owners have big troubles with big banks and credit cards and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should take a look at the numerous obstacles.

First, banks don't like smaller accounts. Many of us face hassles even receiving business lines of credit. Often, we rely on our personal cards to fund our small businesses.

But when we face fraud problems or billing disputes related to those business uses, the banks say that the consumer protection laws don't always apply. Even consumer groups say it's a gray area. And where we have rights, we have to fight with the banks, which, as you might imagine, does not often lead to a result in our favor.

For those of us who do qualify for business credit cards, the cards have no consumer protections under the law. Banks can raise our interest rate at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all. Banks can lower our credit limit at any time, even to amounts below our current balance. There are no restrictions on penalty fees. When we are victims of fraud or billing errors we have no right under the Truth In Lending Law.

Consumers gained important new protections in the Credit CARD Act of 2009. In response, some credit card companies have been accused of marketing business cards to consumers and then denying those consumers their rights because they have business cards, not consumer cards.

Bailouts for the Banks and Cake for the 99%

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

What is good for the financial sector is good for the 99% 1%.

For the financialization of America wasn’t dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis. Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent’s gains) in the nation’s income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the 'outrage constraint' that used to limit executive paychecks, and more.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviews employment law in Pennsylvania and notes that there are two sets of rules, the rules for the rest of us (we are employed at will and rarely get a severance) and the rules for top executives.

Avoid bank fees

In this tough economy, smart shoppers know they need to shop around to get the best deals on groceries or gas, but where we bank can also have a big effect on our wallets.

Increasingly, big banks are charging more outrageous and more hidden fees to use basic services.

According to a new article by The American Banker, the industry’s leading trade paper, 96% of big banks offered free checking just two years ago, as opposed to 35% today. However, AB also reports that free checking is still “alive and well” at small banks.

PennPIRG’s advice to consumers remains simple: shop around (see our banking guide). Big banks can charge increasingly bigger fees and make it harder for customers to avoid them because they know consumers don’t shop around.

For the best value, use a credit union or a local community bank, not a big bank. Our reports consistently show that big banks charge bigger fees.

Cheri Honkala for Sheriff announcement - Thursday at 11 AM

From the Green Party of Philadelphia, via Hugh Giordano:

Cheri Honkala for Sheriff

Join Us on Thursday, February 17, 10:00 am

Cheri Honkala, www.cherihonkala.com, will announce her run for the
Green Party nomination as Sheriff of Philadelphia .

718 Market St, Home of Casino Free Philly, 10:00 am

__________________

Cheri Honkala for Sheriff
Keeping Families In Their Homes
www.cherihonkala.com

Veteran Philadelphia Activist for the Poor to Run for Sheriff on No Evictions Platform

Cheri Honkala Says Appealing to the Banks to Restructure Loans for Families Facing Foreclosure Did Not Work So She Will Run for Sheriff and Refuse to Evict Families.
If Elected, Honkala Would Suspend Sheriff Sales of Properties Indefinitely.

Remember when I was for the bailout?

Remember when I said I was for the bailout? I'm still for the bailout that I said I was for. Not so sure that I'm for this bailout, though:

Treasury may capitalize banks by end of October. Buying into the banks makes no sense to me. I know that it's what lots of economists say would make more sense, but the logic of it just doesn't work for me. I think it was Nancy Pelosi who said that people shouldn't think of this is as a "bailout" but a "buy-in." When I heard it, in the early days of the bailout discussion, I thought: "Yeah, that's right!"

But buy in to the banks (and etc)?

I see three problems with buying in to the financial industry:

1) You can't directly improve the terms of mortgages. Whether the government directly bought mortgages or the securities that held them (the former is better), it could change the terms of those mortgages, giving consumers much more stability, insuring a more even flow of money back into those securities and greater stability across the board. It would be great for homeowners and the rest of the economy. If we just give banks some money, well, who knows what they will do?

2) We won't ever get our cash back, even if the securities make money.

Hope Now isn't cause for much hope

New York Times photo of PUP members demonstrating at HOPE NOW event.

In case you aren't quite convinced to follow Dan's suggestion, above, to call Specter, here's a little back-up for him. This whole industry friendly foo-fah going on with the Hope Now Alliance is not cause for much hope. We need something stronger. Yesterday, PUP did an informational picket outside a HOPE NOW event.

In our press release, John Dodds, Director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, explained: “With sub prime loans increasing dramatically in Philadelphia in the past three years from 20% in 2004 to 37% in 2006 we need more than a public relations road show to protect families and neighborhoods from this crisis."

Hope Now Alliance Hotline has gained a reputation for causing frustration and minimal help to large numbers of homeowners trying to use their services. The Alliance is heavily dominated by the mortgage industry.

“They didn’t even reach out for local housing counselors until this Tuesday for a large scale event a week away”, said Pam Kennebrew a housing counselor for the Unemployment Information Center. “The phone number for the flyer they sent to local homeowners had a bad phone number to call to get information on the Homeownership Forum. A woman in Las Vegas was getting the calls.”

ABC-6 video report on Hope Now Alliance event in University City on April Fool's Day.

Action News reporter Nydia Han covered the Foreclosure Crisis Committees informational picket. As she reports, no homeowners left the meeting with modified loans.

Lies your mortgage company tells you (when you go to meet with them en masse)

So you've led an angry crowd of homeowners to the doorstep of a mortgage company demanding LOAN MODIFICATIONS NOW that freeze your loans at their teaser rates forever. He says, "No can do. I'm legally bound by investors in the secondary market."

Is that true? It might not be. I don't 100% get it, but I might have made some progress today. Wanna see what I think I found? I know you do. Come along!

Harold Brubaker wrote a pretty good analysis of Collaterallized Debt Obligations today in The Inquirer, which are the means by which many mortgage holders have spread around the risk of sub-prime mortgages. I say "pretty good" because I read it three times today before I started getting my head around it. Then I went to Wikipedia and read about the darn things there.

Let me try to put it my way (which might also be wrong, but what the heck), and, more importantly, point out that these things don't work quite the way that the mortgage industry has described. In other words, a teaser freezer seems much more legally feasible than the Greedniks care to admit.

I got your clarity right here: click read more now!

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