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Predatory lending strikes elderly, poor, minorities

MYRTLE BEACH — Rapacious, greedy, voracious and insatiable describe a hyena, and when you look up the word “predatory” regarding House Bill 3125 and Senate Bill 17 on high-cost loans in South Carolina, you get a taste of the cruel appetites these bottom-feeding buzzards possess, feasting on uninformed pilgrims.

The victims are people such as the elderly, an 18-year-old high school graduate and his bride, and a divorcing middle-age, middle-class duo in a rush.

When Rep. David Wilkins, speaker of the house, started telling the media that predatory lending practices would be a primary goal of the upcoming 2003 S.C. Legislative session, some may not have heard of the statewide meetings sponsored by Catholic Charities and the American Association of Retired Persons.

“Predatory lending practices prey on the most vulnerable members of society —- the elderly, poor people and minorities,” said Dorothy Grillo, diocesan director of Catholic Charities. “These are the very persons our faith calls us to protect. The economy exists to serve the people not the other way around. It is imperative that the S.C. Legislature enact fair lending laws that will protect consumers from abusive lending practices. The call to economic justice is not a political preference. It is a requirement of Catholic teaching.”

“As Catholics, we are called by our faith, as well as by our principles of Catholic social teaching, to pay attention to social justice issues such as this,” said Tracy Kroll, Midlands regional coordinator of Catholic Charities.

Bishop Robert J. Baker has signed a statement opposing predatory lending in all its forms and “called upon the South Carolina Legislature to enact equitable, fair lending laws which protect consumers from being exploited by such abusive, unscrupulous practices.”

At the Florence session held at The Poynter Center, Carrie Sinkler-Parker, associate state director of the S.C. State Office of AARP, and Susan Berkowitz, director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, spoke.

“We have conducted a major series of workshops statewide from Greenville and Gaffney,” said Sinkler-Parker. “We’ve taken it to the rural communities for people who are likely to be victimized. So people have a better understanding about what they need to ask about.

“Older people get taken by doing home repairs,” she said. The lenders also target older communities, women, minorities and young people.

“(These are) people who are just not informed,” said Sinkler-Parker.

Working with Catholic Charities and the other faith-based groups has been very helpful, she said.

“We have tried to equip the communities with the language and the things they need to ask.”

“In South Carolina a lender cannot charge you for pre-paying if your loan is under $100,000,” says Berkowitz.

“Solutions to this problem must come from changes in our state’s laws,” said the director of the Appleseed Justice Center. “We must modify our state consumer protection laws to prohibit many practices related to fees and charges, flipping of loans, credit insurance and improvement in the language for protecting consumers against bad loans or home improvement scams.”

In this state payday lenders can only charge up to $15 per $100. They can only lend up to $300. They cannot sell other items like money orders, stamps and vending machine goods.

“The AARP were the ones who called us and the Baptist Convention,” said Sister Pat Keating, Coastal regional coordinator for Catholic Charities. “They called us their faith partners.”

“We engaged the faith-based community because people are likely to share very personal things with people who are in their faith-based community,” said Sinkler-Parker. “If you think that you are about to be victimized, talk to someone in your community.”

The Christian Action Council is working with AARP to promote this legislation on predatory lending. Both bills are currently awaiting committee review.

For more information

Get in touch with your local Catholic Charities office: Midlands, (803) 254-9776; Pee Dee, (843) 347-5157; Piedmont, (864) 242-2233; Coastal, (843) 308-9361; or call Sinkler-Parker at (803) 251-7860.

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