Sunday, August 25, 2013
Catering to the poor
But not always with good intentions, pawn shops are moving into a financial niche that banks are readily leaving in their search for ever greater profits to please Wall St.
Linda Ballard, 61, uses the word “love” to describe her banking relationship, lauding the ease of cashing her bimonthly paycheck, the convenience of text alerts about her balance and the features on the platinum card that she was upgraded to in July.Hardly any protections at all but they serve the needs of the hand-to-mouth financial sector.
But she is not getting all this from a bank. She is getting this array of services from a pawnshop — part of an industry that has long had a reputation of taking advantage of vulnerable customers handing over prized possessions in exchange for cash.
As banks zero in on more affluent customers who promise twice the revenue of their lower-income counterparts, close branches in poor areas and remain stingy with credit, pawnshops are revamping their image and stepping into the void to offer financial services.
“The way the banks have tightened up so much on making small loans and making equity loans, we’ve kind of evolved into, I like to call it the poor man’s bank,” said Robbie Whitten, chief executive of Money Mizer Pawn and Jewelry of Columbus, Ga.
There are, however, plenty of potential drawbacks, consumer advocates say.
Some loans from pawnshops can come with interest rates as high as 25 percent. And fringe financial operations, the consumer advocates say, can imperil lower-income customers’ ability to save for the future. Without a traditional checking or savings account, borrowers often pay more for basic financial transactions like cashing checks, paying bills and wiring money, financial counselors say. And because pawnshops do not seek or report matters affecting credit scores, pawnshop banking makes it hard for customers to build credit history.
“Consumers need to be aware that the products don’t always carry the same protections as those you would get from a bank,”
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