Viewpoint

What God thinks of high interest rates

Payday loan businesses trap consumers in a cycle of debt.
Payday loan businesses trap consumers in a cycle of debt. 2010 AP file photo

As it turns out, scripture has a lot more to say about money than it does about sex, though based on our sex-fixated society, who knew? In fact, scripture covers nearly every angle about money: how to make money, save money, spend money, and most importantly, lend money. Lending money seems to be of particular concern to God because this is the place where the powerful can readily take advantage of the vulnerable, and the vulnerable always have a special place in God’s heart. Indeed, we are still putting the pieces back together from the 2008 lending meltdown that fell heavily on the most vulnerable.

With the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2011, safeguards were put in place to offer some protection for vulnerable consumers. While federal agencies do not enact religious principles by definition, I have to believe God was smiling as consumer protection inched ahead of bank profits in the regulation guidebook. Since its inception, the CFPB has returned $12 billion to 29 million Americans by enforcing laws against banks and other financial companies that mistreat customers. Hundreds of thousands more have been helped as the CFPB resolved complaints that consumers had been unable to rectify on their own.

Jennifer Copeland, 516
Copeland

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a good thing. Not good is the Financial Choice Act recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Choice Act is no choice at all, gutting the authority of the CFPB to have oversight of payday lending and other nefarious loan tactics. Another provision of the Financial [no] Choice Act allows financial companies to override strong state laws, like we have in North Carolina, that ban payday lending by allowing lenders to partner with out-of-state banks. These kinds of loan shark operations trap people in debt at annual interest rates as high as 300 percent.

Anyone with basic math skills can see these are bad numbers, but for those who read the Bible, these are sinful numbers. “Let us stop this taking of interest. Restore to them, this very day, their [livelihood] and the interest on money ... that you have been exacting from them” (Nehemiah 5:10b-11).

Reasonable interest rates are one thing – we are a capitalist nation after all – but God does not look kindly on taking advantage of those struggling financially by charging them outrageous interest rates. The structure of such loans creates borrowers in bondage, enslaved by interest payments and fees that add up to several times the amount of the original loan.

The Financial [no] Choice Act would erase most of the consumer protections enacted after 2008. Only four members of the N.C. congressional delegation opposed the bill – Democratic Reps. Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price, and Republican Rep. Walter Jones, the only Republican in the country to vote against the bill. If you are not represented by one of these four, then your representative voted against your best interests and the best interests of North Carolinians who have known first-hand the disastrous effects of payday and car title lending.

Now is our chance to thank the four stalwarts we have in the House and then turn our attention to the Senate. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis both identify as Christians. With little effort, they should be able to find the support they need to stand tall for the people of North Carolina. After all, scripture has a lot to say about money.

Copeland is executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches. Email: jennifer@ncchurches.org

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