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Confessions of a Former Teen Debt Collector | by Meghan Gunn | Jul, 2020

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It was an accident, becoming a teenage debt collector. “Listen,” a friend told me. “There’s this job I heard about — it’s at a law firm, you’ll make bank.” It was the summer of 2015, and I was a college student living in downtown St. Louis, away from my childhood home in the Missouri suburbs. The promise of a $10 hourly rate for office work was a serious upgrade from my earnings as a lifeguard. So I met with the partners at their exposed-brick office, burrowed in a city alley.

The firm defied every stereotype of the typical tax attorney. In the lobby, an incense machine whirled in front of colorful tapestries. The two men who ran the joint, both white, bald, and middle-aged, wore Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. The secretaries sat cross-legged and barefoot in sweats, eating Lean Cuisines. “We like to keep it fun and casual here,” one of the partners told me. He had a side practice teaching yoga at a neighboring studio. They ordered bougie salads to the office on Fridays.

The interview was simple. They asked if I was organized; I fervently nodded yes. I started work the next week, paid in cash.

My early introduction to the underbelly of the predatory lending world taught me the ramifications of taking a job before understanding the implications. I soon learned the firm was a debt collection agency; my role was to file court orders against people who didn’t pay back loans. I didn’t know anything about payday loans before this gig. My only exposure to these so-called cash advance loans was seeing the phrase posted in fluorescent lights along the storefronts in my hometown: EASY MONEY HERE.

My role was to keep tabs on debtors. I used PI software to follow their places of employment and residence.

Those same neon letters on barred windows became impossible to escape this year with the start of the pandemic, when payday loan shops continued to gleam with false promise, under the guise of essential business: QUICK CA$H HERE! BAD CREDIT OK! Seeing the shops tucked away in boarded-up strip malls marked my return home to Missouri this spring after my life in New York came to a halt. I had lost my job and my graduate school courses transitioned online. Returning home meant I was stuck in social isolation during a time of nationwide protests and a deep cultural reckoning with systems of oppression — the very system I once worked within.

During my tenure as a debt collector, I watched as different kinds of people enter this promised land of fast cash. Some had medical emergencies or childcare expenses; others needed to pay rent, buy food. Borrowers were often poor, in a bind, and didn’t have access to other types of lending. Payday lenders offer immediate funds — but at a heavy cost. In states like Missouri and Illinois, the interest rate on these kinds of loans is as high as up to 900%. In a few months, a $500 loan can become $4,500 of debt. The first time I saw a triple-digit interest percentage, I asked one of the lawyers if it was a typo. “Well no,” the partner told me. “It means they’ve been hiding from us.”

My role was to keep tabs on debtors. I used PI software to follow their places of employment and residence. I’d then relay the intel to the sheriff’s office so deputies could track down debtors at their homes and work, notifying them a portion of their paychecks would be withheld until they paid off their debt. Every week, I’d head to the courthouse and shove a stack of lawsuits through the window of the sheriff’s office. Then I’d wait back at the firm to hear if they were successfully served.

Debtors tended to move workplaces often, a sign of poverty’s cyclical and relentless nature. Sometimes debtors would come to the firm to try and assuage the constant contact. Often they weren’t allowed in. “We have bars and security codes for this reason,” a partner said.

I developed a strange attachment to my assigned debtors as I followed them through various life transitions: job and partner changes, moving, new babies. I watched lives unfold from behind my computer screen. Sometimes I looked up their homes on Zillow, wanting to know them as humans, beyond their debt. Some lived in downtown St. Louis’ once-regal brick homes, now dilapidated from a century of city turmoil. Others bounced through North County housing projects. I zoomed in on homes with carefully tended flower boxes or wind chimes on wraparound porches.

“Well, sure, it’s a real bummer, especially when you see people have medical issues,” the partner shrugged. “But like everybody else, you have to pay your bills.”

When I felt a particularly strong affinity to a debtor, I’d look them up on Facebook, out of curiosity. Most were inactive. I never reached out to anyone — I simply observed from behind the firm’s IP address. When a debtor had a child, our relationship would usually end. (I was barred from collecting from someone who also owed child support.) When I left the office for the day I’d continue piecing together debtors’ lives, searching for the forces that trapped them in this relentless cycle of debt. They didn’t know I existed.

I worked at the firm for one long, morally confusing, all-consuming summer. The Ferguson protests broke out a year before I took the job, and the city was still grappling with the fallout. Michael Brown’s death was not only a catalyst for the fight against police brutality, but one against a predatory society, particularly in St. Louis. I’d always felt my hometown couldn’t figure out what side of history it intended to be on. It’s an in-between place, muddled in wealth disparity and segregation so blatant it’s known as the Delmar Divide, named after the boulevard that separates Black and white neighborhoods.

I’d watched the city attempt to rebuild itself time and time again. Yet while it seemed publicly we were moving toward change, I was privy to the skulking ways a system still exploited those most vulnerable. It’s one that continues now, as payday lenders target the unemployed, preying on economic turmoil and a global pandemic. Payday loans are yet another form of modern oppression, robbing people of freedom, of personhood.

On my last day working at the law firm, I asked one of the partners if he ever felt bad about his whole operation. He was rushing out to teach his yoga class. “Well, sure, it’s a real bummer, especially when you see people have medical issues and things like that,” he shrugged. “But like everybody else, you have to pay your bills.”

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Village of New Paltz might expand eligibility for revolving loan fund | Local News

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NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — The village is considering expanding eligibility for a little-used revolving loan fund to include the needs of businesses being hit hard by the COVID-related economic slowdown.



Village of New Paltz trying to help residents get refunds from waste haulers

Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers




Mayor Tim Rogers said Tuesday that the $500,000 loan fund could be used to help businesses with more than just the purchase of personal protective equipment allowed under state and federal programs.

“We’re trying to piggyback off of the existing language for the revolving loan fund,” he said. “We just wanted to make it somewhat broad in terms of recognizing COVID impacts.”

One thing the village is considering is eliminating the rule that prohibits the use of the fund for emergency situations or business operations.

“Here we are flipping it and saying that you can,” Rogers said.

Guidelines for the loan program, which was established with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, were last updated in 2013. The loan fund’s current interest rate is 3%.

Rogers said the fund has received only two loan applications over the past six years, and one of those was rejected.

“There’s only been one that we awarded and one that we straight up denied,” he said, noting that the rejection was because of the applicant’s bad credit history.

Rogers said the COVID-19 pandemic has created something of an economic irony in the village: decreased foot traffic in the business district but a significant increase in applications for building permits.

“[Village Safety Inspector] Cory Wirthmann believes our busy Building Department is partially a function of people traveling or vacationing less,” the mayor said. “ Money they would have spent is now going to home improvement wish list projects or just deferred maintenance, like finally choosing to replace the old roof.”

Comments about expanding the revolving loan fund should be emailed to  assistant@villageofnewpaltz.org. A loan application and information about the process can be found online at bit.ly/npaltz-loans.

For local coverage related to the coronavirus, go to bit.ly/DFCOVID19.

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Will Missing One Car Payment Hurt My Credit Score?

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The short answer is yes: skipping one car payment can hurt your credit score, but not until it hits a certain mark. One missed payment doesn’t destroy your credit score forever, but it can stay on your credit reports for years.

Missed Payments and Your Credit Score

One or two missed payments may not be enough to completely ruin a good credit score, but they can lower your credit score quite a bit. How much your credit score can drop depends on many things, including how much credit history you have and how much time has passed since your missed payment.

How much a missed payment can impact your credit score is heavily influenced by how many missed payments you currently have reported, your current credit score, your credit utilization, how many accounts you have, and more. In other words: your drop in credit score due to one missed car payment is likely to be unique to you. The drop in points could be anywhere from 10 to 100 points, or more.

Will Skipping One Car Payment Hurt My Credit Score?If you have a thin credit file or little to no credit history, one missed car payment can be devastating to your credit score. And, in some cases, having a good credit score and then a reported 30-day missed payment could hurt your credit score more because you have more to lose.

The severity of the missed payment matters too. If you’re 30 days on the payment, it’s not as bad as being 90 days late. Most creditors report missed payments in these timeframes: 30 days; 60 days; 90 days; 120 days; 150 days; and then delinquent/charge-offs after that. The longer you let that missed payment go on being missed, the worse it is for your credit score.

To bounce back from a missed auto loan payment, be sure to make that payment as quickly as you can. The sooner you make up that payment, the better off you are.

How Long Are Missed Car Payments Reported?

Missed and late car payments can remain on your credit reports for up to seven years. How much they damage your credit score lessens each year, but it can still impact your overall credit score years afterward.

Your payment history is the most influential part of your credit score: a whopping 35%. In terms of credit repair, this means making all of your bill payments on time is important. If you have an auto loan that isn’t currently being reported – meaning your loan and on-time payments don’t show up on your credit report – the missed and late payments are likely to be reported anyway. Even auto lenders that don’t generally report their loans to the credit bureaus typically report missed/late payments.

If you think you’re about to miss a payment and you want to avoid hurting your credit, you have some options to explore.

Ask Your Lender for a Deferment

Lending institutions understand that times can get tough. If you think you’re about to miss a payment, contact your lender right away and ask what options are available to you. Keep your lender in the loop if you’re going through rough times – the sooner you get ahold of them the better.

This is especially true right now, given the current pandemic. Many borrowers left without work have been forced to find alternatives to making payments and needed assistance with their car loans and mortgages. There is a process that allows borrowers to take a breather and gather themselves, and it’s called a deferment.

A deferment, in a nutshell, pushes the pause button on your auto loan. Most times, lenders pause the car payments for up to three months and add those payments to the back of the loan term. If you qualify, you may be able to recenter yourself and get back on track. After the deferment is up, the car payments resume and you continue paying as normal.

The only downsides to this option are that your interest charges continue to accrue, and your loan term is extended. However, in the grand scheme of things, a few more months of a car payment and interest charges is better than default or multiple missed payments!

There is a common stumbling block to deferments though: most lenders don’t approve these plans unless your current on the loan. If you’ve already missed one payment or more, then the lender isn’t likely to approve it.

Is Refinancing Your Auto Loan an Option?

If you’re struggling to keep up with your current car loan, refinancing for a lower monthly payment could be the answer.

Refinancing involves replacing your current loan with another one, typically with a different lender. Most borrowers refinance to lower their monthly payments by either lowering their interest rate or extending their loan term (sometimes both).

To refinance, you also need to be current on your auto loan. Most lenders that offer refinancing don’t consider borrowers with multiple missed/late payments on their car loan. Additionally, you generally need to meet these requirements for refinancing:

  • Must have equity in the car or the loan balance must be equal to the vehicle’s value
  • The car is under 10 years old with fewer than 100,000 miles
  • Your credit score has improved since the start of the loan

You may need to meet other requirements, depending on the lender you choose. Refinancing doesn’t typically require a “perfect” credit score, but you may need a good one to qualify.

Ready to Get a More Affordable Car?

If you’re struggling to make ends meet and worried about skipping payments, then it may be time to sell your car and get something more affordable. If you’re concerned that a poor credit score could get in the way of your next auto loan, then consider a subprime lender through a special finance dealership.

Subprime lenders are indirect lenders that are signed up with certain dealers. They assist borrowers in all sorts of unique credit circumstances, and they could help you get into a more affordable vehicle if you qualify.

Finding a subprime lender can be as simple as completing our free auto loan request form. Here at Auto Credit Express, we work to match borrowers to dealerships with bad credit lending resources in their local area, at no cost and with no obligation. Get started today!

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How to Avoid a Prepayment Penalty When Paying Off a Loan | Pennyhoarder

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Look at you, so responsible. You received a financial windfall — stimulus check, tax refund, work bonus, inheritance, whatever — and you’re using it to pay off one of your debts years ahead of schedule.

Good for you! Except… make sure you don’t get charged a prepayment penalty.

Now wait just a minute, you say. I’m paying the money back early — early! — and my lender thanks me by charging me a fee?

Well, in some cases, yes.

A prepayment penalty is a fee lenders use to recoup the money they’ll lose when you’re no longer paying interest on the loan. That interest is how they make their money.

But you can avoid the trap — or at least a big payout if you’ve already signed the loan contract. We’ll explain.

What Is a Loan Prepayment Penalty?

A prepayment penalty is a fee lenders charge if you pay off all or part of your loan early.

Typically, a prepayment penalty only applies if you pay off the entire balance – for example, because you sold your car or are refinancing your mortgage – within a specific timeframe (usually within three years of when you accepted the loan).

In some cases, a prepayment penalty could apply if you pay off a large amount of your loan all at once.

Prepayment penalties do not normally apply if you pay extra principal in small chunks at a time, but it’s always a good idea to double check with the lender and your loan agreement.

What Loans Have Prepayment Penalties?

Most loans do not include a prepayment penalty. They are typically applied to larger loans, like mortgages and sometimes auto loans — although personal loans can also include this sneaky fee.

Credit unions and banks are your best options for avoiding loans that include prepayment penalties, according to Charles Gallagher, a consumer law attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Unfortunately, if you have bad credit and can’t get a loan from traditional lenders, private loan alternatives are the most likely to include the prepayment penalty.

Pro Tip

If your loan includes a prepayment penalty, the contract should state the time period when it may be imposed, the maximum penalty and the lender’s contact information.

”The more opportunistic and less fair lenders would be the ones who would probably be assessing [prepayment penalties] as part of their loan terms,” he said, “I wouldn’t say loan sharking… but you have to search down the list for a less preferable lender.”

Prepayment Penalties for Mortgages

Although you’ll find prepayment penalties in auto and personal loans, a more common place to find them is in home loans. Why? Because a lender who agrees to a 30-year mortgage term is banking on earning years worth of interest to make money off the amount it’s loaning you.

That prepayment penalty can apply if you want to pay off your loan early, sell your house or even refinance, depending on the terms of your mortgage.

However, if there is a prepayment penalty in the contract for a more recent mortgage, there are rules about how long it can be in effect and how much you can owe.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ruled that for mortgages made after Jan. 10, 2014, the maximum prepayment penalty a lender can charge is 2% of the loan balance. And prepayment penalties are only allowed in mortgages if all of the following are true:

  1. The loan has a fixed interest rate.
  2. The loan is considered a “qualified mortgage” (meaning it can’t have features like negative amortization or interest-only payments).
  3. The loan’s annual percentage rate can’t be higher than the Average Prime Offer Rate (also known as a higher-priced mortgage).

So suppose you bought a house last year and then wanted to sell your home. If your mortgage meets all of the above criteria and has a prepayment penalty clause in the mortgage contract, you could end up paying a penalty of 2% on the remaining balance — for a loan you still owe $200,000 on, that comes out to an extra $4,000.

Prepayment penalties apply for only the first few years of a mortgage — the CFPB’s rule allows for a maximum of three years. But again, check your mortgage agreement for your exact terms.

The prepayment penalty won’t apply to FHA, VA or USDA loans but can apply to conventional mortgages — although the penalty is much less common than it was before the CFPB’s ruling.

“It’s more of private loans — loans for people who’ve maybe had some struggles and can’t qualify for a Fannie or Freddie loan,” Gallagher said. “That block of lending is the one going to be most hit by this.”

How to Find Out If a Loan Will Have a Prepayment Penalty

The best way to avoid a prepayment penalty is to read your contract — or better yet, have a professional (like an attorney or CPA) who understands the terminology, review it.

“You should read the entirety of the loan, as painful as that sounds, because lenders may try to hide it,” Gallagher said. “Generally, it would be under repayment terms or the language that deals with the payoff of the loan or selling your house.”

Gallagher rattled off a list of alternative terms a lender could use in the contract, including:

  • Sale before a certain timeframe.
  • Refinance before a term.
  • Prepayment prior to maturity.

“They avoid using the word ‘penalty,’ obviously, because that would give a reader of the note, mortgage or the loan some alarm,” he said.

If you’re negotiating the terms — as say, with an auto loan — don’t let a salesperson try to pressure you into signing a contract without agreeing to a simple interest contract with no prepayment penalty. Better yet, start by applying for a pre-approved auto loan so you can get a pro to review any contracts before you sign.

Pro Tip

Do you have less-than-sterling credit? Watch out for pre-computed loans, in which interest is front-loaded, ensuring the lender collects more in interest no matter how quickly you pay off the loan.

If your lender presents you with a contract that includes a prepayment penalty, request a loan that does not include a prepayment penalty. The new contract may have other terms that make that loan less advantageous (like a higher interest rate), but you’ll at least be able to compare your options.

How Can You Find Out if Your Current Loan Has a Prepayment Penalty?

If a loan has a prepayment penalty, the servicer must include information about the penalty on either your monthly statement or in your loan coupon book (the slips of paper you send with your payment every month).

You can also ask your lender about the terms regarding your penalty by calling the number on your monthly billing statement or read the documents you signed when you closed the loan — look for the same terms mentioned above.

What to Do if You’re Stuck in a Loan With Prepayment Penalty

If you do discover that your loan includes a prepayment penalty, you still have some options.

First, check your contract.

If you’ll incur a fee for paying off your loan early within the first few years, consider holding onto the money until the penalty period expires.

Pro Tip

If you don’t have a loan with a prepayment penalty, contact your lender before sending additional money to ensure your payment is going toward principal — not interest or fees.

Additionally, although you may get socked with a penalty for paying off the loan balance early, it’s likely you can still make extra payments toward the balance. Review your contract or ask your lender what amount will trigger the penalty, Gallagher said.

If you’re paying off multiple types of debt, consider paying off the accounts that do not trigger prepayment penalties — credit cards and federal student loans don’t charge prepayment penalties.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

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