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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bankrupt!: A Perfect Storm Forming


Been a minute since I reported on "Maxed Out"(+/+), a scathing documentary exposing the effects and inner workings of America's debt crisis and debt industries.

Since then, James D. Scurlock, director of Maxed Out has been a busy bee, as screenings play nationally throughout this month in 12 cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

His companion book — formally titled “Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders” — is being published by Scribner.


Yet, more interestingly, Stuart Elliot and NY Times reports on a general trend towards louder and harder-edged criticism of lending practices.

A coalition of organizations, called Americans for Fairness in Lending, which is comprised of the Consumers Union, the N.A.A.C.P., Acorn, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the Center for Responsible Lending, the Consumer Federation of America, United Automobile Workers, and the National Consumer Law Center are teaming with Maxed Out's director James Scurlock, to launch an advertising campaign that compares the effects of so-called unfair lending practices with the havoc wreaked by natural disasters like earthquakes, fires, hurricanes and floods.

The campaign from the coalition, which includes print advertising and a web site, has been in the works for more than two years, its organizers say. The ads are being introduced 13 days after a trade organization for the payday-lending industry, which provides short-term cash advances, began a campaign centered on what it calls a voluntary “customer pledge” to help shield borrowers from abuses.

Members of the coalition wanted a campaign that would be perceived as “different for folks from nonprofit organizations,” says Kirsten Keefe, the executive director of the coalition, by being more like hard-hitting, attention-getting ads for products and less like warm and fuzzy public service announcements.

The ads depict unhappy families and their meager possessions in makeshift circumstances, as if they were evacuated or rescued from nature’s wrath. In each instance, readers are told that the “crisis,” “tragedy” or “disaster” was caused by “credit card debt,” a “400 percent payday loan” or a “late mortgage payment” rather than, as they would expect, a natural calamity.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ring, stands the trade organization
Community Financial Services Association of America, made up of Cash America International, the largest pawnshop chain; Check Into Cash; the Dollar Financial Group; Express Check Advance; First Cash Financial Services, and Rent-A-Center which all say they will spend $10 million on its campaign. The coalition campaign, by contrast, has a budget estimated at $500,000, although the member organizations are hoping to raise additional money.

Print ads for the trade association carry headlines like, “A customer pledge from the payday advance industry” and describe steps that members are taking to address critics.

They include a new feature, called an extended repayment plan, which will offer some borrowers more time to repay loans; adding to “all marketing and advertising materials” an advisory that payday loans “are for short-term use only,” and an agreement to refrain from advertising payday loans “for frivolous uses.”

AKI COMMENT: I still predict we are fast approaching a tipping point - a shift in mass sentiment (and demands for action) on par with recent cigarette industry backlash, Wal-Mart backlash, sweat shop production backlash. Consider recent fast food industry backlashes after effective hactivist exposes such as Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me goosed the rising tides of consumer dissatisfaction into organized movements for change.

Some additional light reading:
Bankrupt!: The Unbanked: Payday Lending
Bankrupt!: The Unbanked: Payday Lending to Military
Bankrupt!: The War On Soldier Debt
Bankrupt!: Ominous Housing Market Bubble
Bankrupt!: Young and In Debt
Bankrupt!: Youth Debt Burden
Bankrupt!: Retiring In The Red

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that if these interests want to keep consumer confidence and not screw themselves over by over-extending their customers, the answer is not marketing telling consumers not to borrow too much. That's passing the buck. The answer is to stop giving loans to people who can't afford them and to charge more reasonable interest rates.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Citibank one of Fallon's clients? Several years ago they settled a class action lawsuit for $215 million for predatory lending.

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