Regulators examine if big banks evade payday loan laws: NYT

Sun Feb 24, 2013 2:07pm EST
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(Reuters) - Federal and state regulators are examining whether some of the largest U.S. banks are helping Internet-based lenders evade state laws that cap interest rates on payday loans, The New York Times said on Sunday.

Citing several people with direct knowledge of the matter, the newspaper said the FDIC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C. are examining the role of banks in online payday loans.

It also said Benjamin Lawsky, who heads New York State's Department of Financial Services, is investigating how banks enable online lenders to make high-rate loans to residents of New York, where interest rates are capped at 25 percent.

Payday loans, typically a few hundred dollars in size, enable cash-strapped borrowers to obtain quick funds to tide them over until their next paychecks.

But the loans can carry effective annual interest rates that reach well into three digits. Some consumer advocates consider the loans a means to take advantage of financially desperate Americans, who nonetheless shell out $7.4 billion a year for them according to a February 20 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The newspaper did not identify the banks being examined.

But it said that while large banks such as Bank of America Corp, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co do not make the actual loans, they do let lenders that do to withdraw payments from customers' accounts, even if customers have already begged them to stop.

According to the newspaper, 15 U.S. states ban payday loans, but lenders are setting up online operations in places such as Belize, Malta and the West Indies to more easily evade the caps.

Representatives of JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc and Wells Fargo, the four largest U.S. banks, had no immediate comment or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.   Continued...

A man uses an automated teller machine (ATM) at a Wells Fargo Bank branch on a rainy morning in Washington January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron