511 Percent — Or Your First-Born
Last week’s Weekly cover story, “Wolves in Small Print,” focused on predatory housing loans.
But the payday loan business, of course, has always been a place of sharp teeth and incredibly high interest rates for those who have nowhere else to turn for emergency cash. Now, apparently, the “consumer credit” wolves are wearing slightly different clothing.
The Texas Legislature this year defeated a bill that would have allowed payday lenders – like Fort Worth’s very own Cash America International – to triple their interest rates, to as high as 780 percent for a two-week loan. When that industry-friendly bill died, the little lenders made an end run – they decided to register as “credit service organizations” claiming they help to “improve a consumer’s credit rating.” CSOs are not regulated in Texas; they are more like counseling services. So now if you go to the local check-cashing joint, that advance on your paycheck, at a breathtaking interest rate, is actually a form of loan counseling. The Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin think tank, says the average interest rate on a 14-day payday loan is now 511 percent in Texas. And those little loans take $100 million every year out of the pockets of Texans who can least afford it. And to think that this state used to have usury laws, in the bad old days.
Cutting the Cable
Speaking of bad days, Charter Communications had one at city hall recently. First the city’s cable services manager, Randy Westerman, told the coucil that Charter overcharged its Fort Worth customers by about $356,000 between July 2001 and June 2004 – and also failed to pay the city more than $324,000 in franchise fees. The city intends to work with Charter to get its own money and to get money back to customers as well, Westerman said.
Then the other shoe landed on the cable box. The city’s cable advisory committee, after talking to many angry citizens, recommended that Fort Worth not renew its contract with Charter, which expires in August 2006.
Static can’t imagine what the problem is. Why just the other day a nice cable guy came to hook up service for a friend of Static’s. After he left, Friend – who’s been old enough to vote and drink for a long time now – turned on the set and flipped to the Independent Film Channel. No, no, no, the new tv set said – parental authorization would not allow that. Same for a no-steamier-than-usual soap opera. Friend called Charter and told them her age. “Those darn new boxes,” the Charter rep said, “they’re a big pain. Maybe you could call back tomorrow.”
The tv set was no more permissive the next day, so Friend called back. Sure, the rep said, we’ll get someone out to your house to fix that … in about two weeks. Friend promptly inquired how long it would take to get someone there if she canceled her service. Rep didn’t get the sarcasm.
City officials will present Charter will a list of customer service improvements that must be made before a contract renewal will be considered. Static is sure that the nice folks at Charter will get right on that … in about, say, July 2006.