HOME OWNERS FLEECED BY DEVIOUS BANKS
“An important factor behind the increase in mortgage foreclosures is the rise of so-called subprime loans. Subprime loans are made to borrowers with credit deemed insufficient to qualify for a standard home mortgage. They sometimes entail predatory practices including exorbitant interest rates, additional fees and prepayment penalties that make it virtually impossible for the borrower to escape from debt. Subprime lending is targeted disproportionately at the poor, minorities and the elderly.
The increase in home foreclosures is linked to the rise in subprime lending. Studies in Boston and Atlanta conducted during the 1990s showed foreclosures by subprime lenders tripling, while foreclosures by other lenders remained steady or declined. A similar study in Chicago, which began at an earlier date, showed an even more dramatic increase. [ See Subprime Foreclosures: the Smoking Gun of Predatory Lending? Policy Development and Research Information Service http://www.huduser.org/index.html%5D
During the 1990s the practice of “risk based’ pricing increased. Banks began charging higher than normal interest rates to certain borrowers deemed to have lower than average credit worthiness. This practice was justified on the grounds that it opened home ownership to those who would not otherwise qualify for mortgages. However, by their nature, subprime loans carry a higher risk of default because they impose an additional financial burden on those who are in many cases least able to afford it. Further, subprime loans have become an arena for outright fraud and abuse. Cases of “redlining” have been documented where whole neighborhoods, usually poor or minority, are deemed to be substandard credit risks, forcing residents with otherwise excellent credit to pay subprime interest rates.
One of the most flagrant offenders is CitiGroup, headed by Bill Clinton’s former treasury secretary Robert Rubin. In March the Federal Trade Commission charged CitiGroup with deliberately “steering” and “misleading” borrowers into accepting predatory loans.
It is alleged that CitiGroup, its affiliate Associates First Capital and sister company CitiFinancial engaged in predatory lending practices such as inducing borrowers to take out high-interest loans even though they qualified for prime-rate loans. It is also charged that CitiGroup engaged in another predatory tactic known as “flipping,” where borrowers are pushed into progressively higher-interest loans by repeatedly refinancing their mortgages. The bank is also alleged to charge “excessive and unjustified” fees and impose impossible loan terms that lead to foreclosure.
Despite these serious allegations of a criminal character, CitiGroup and its executives were able to escape any major consequences by paying a mere $215 million in restitution to defrauded home buyers.
Such practices are by no means the exception. Subprime lenders often impose interest rates far higher than anything that could conceivably be justified by factoring in costs associated with added risk. Borrowers are often unaware of provisions hidden in fine print that require additional fees, balloon payments or the payment of compulsory life insurance premiums. In some cases lenders simply lie to borrowers, stating installment amounts that are far lower than what the mortgage holder is actually required to pay.
There are indications that the speed of home foreclosures is increasing. This is also tied to the rise of subprime lenders. For example, the above mentioned study in Washington state noted that of all foreclosures reported in 2000, subprime lenders were responsible for 58 percent of fast foreclosures, defined as foreclosures within the first two years.
Powerful financial interests have intervened to block even token reform. For example, the Ohio legislature enacted a bill in February 2002 prohibiting local communities from passing laws against predatory lending”.
MONSTROUS SOCIAL INEQUALITY
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( This is from an interesting political website and I just couldn’t resist quoting the article as I couldn’t have put it better myself)