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Expensive Loans to Desperate People Built This $90 Billion Industry

Feb. 14, 2019, 12:17 PM

During the recent government shutdown, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross wondered aloud why financially-stressed federal workers didn’t just “get a loan.”

Payday loan businesses advertise their services in Phoenix.
Photographer: Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

A wealthy private equity investor, Ross faced excoriation. But the underlying question remains, even with a second shutdown less likely to occur. For Americans with limited options and desperate for cash, this is where consumer lenders such as Enova International Inc., Curo Group Holdings Corp. and Elevate Credit Inc. step in.

They’re part of a growing industry of online companies which specialize in risky borrowers. Enova, for example, offers loans with interest rates ranging from 34 to...

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