UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 23, 2009

USURY PROTESTS IN FIVE CITIES

Washington Post - Several dozen protesters . . . descended on bank branches in downtown Washington as part of a multi-city campaign to bring back usury laws. They are calling for a national interest rate cap of 10 percent for credit cards and other types of consumer loans. Similar actions took place in New York, Chicago, Boston and Durham, N.C.

The event was organized by the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation with groups including the Washington Interfaith Network and Action in Montgomery. They have also sent letters demanding meetings with the chief executives of Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Many states have laws that cap interest rates charged to consumers, but they do not affect rates charged by nationally chartered banks, including most major credit card issuers. Credit card companies frequently charge interest rates of more than 20 percent. A law passed by Congress earlier this year restricting arbitrary and excessive credit card fees has done little to quell complaints among consumers that they are being gouged by credit card issuers. Banks have responded by raising the fees they charge credit card holders.

Federally chartered banks were exempted from state usury laws in 1980. Since then, efforts to establish a national cap have met with mixed success. In May, an effort led by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) to set a 15 percent interest rate cap garnered only 33 votes. However, three years ago,

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