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Elizabeth Warren on coronavirus, the presidency, and the economy 



In January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first presidential candidate to release a plan for combating coronavirus. In March, she released a second plan. Days later, with the scale of economic damage increasing, she released a third. Warren’s proposals track the spread of the virus: from a problem happening elsewhere and demanding a surge in global health resources and domestic preparation to a pandemic happening here, demanding not just a public health response but an all-out effort to save the US economy.

Warren’s penchant for planning stands in particularly stark contrast to this administration, which still has not released a clear coronavirus plan. There is no document you can download, no website you can visit, that details our national strategy to slow the disease, transition back to normalcy, and rebuild the economy.

So I asked Warren to explain what the plan should be, given the grim reality we face. We discussed what, specifically, the federal government should do; the roots of the testing debacle; her idea for mobilizing the post-coronavirus economy around building affordable housing; why she thinks this is exactly the right time to cancel student loan debt; why America spends so much money preparing for war and so little defending itself against pandemics and climate change; whether the Democratic primary focused on the wrong issues; and how this crisis is recasting Ronald Reagan’s old saw about “the scariest words in the English language.”

You can listen to our full conversation by subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show, available wherever you get your podcasts. A transcript of our discussion, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

Ezra Klein

There still isn’t a single coronavirus response plan from the White House — I can’t actually go and look up our strategy as a nation for stopping and recovering from this. During your presidential campaign, you released three plans on coronavirus — one in January and two in March. But the situation has gotten worse since then. What should the plan be now?

Elizabeth Warren

Let’s start with the fact that if you want to get something done, you ought to have a plan. Back in January, I put out a plan that really focused on the importance of getting ready: making sure that we had all the masks and the gowns and the respirators and all the things health care professionals need, and opening up centers to help people if the health care system got overwhelmed. It was also focused on testing because the testing is crucial. We need enough test kits not just to test people who are showing raging symptoms, but enough test kits to be able to test people who appear to be healthy, so you can keep detecting it in the population and identify hot spots.

That’s what a plan should still look like today, even though this thing is huge. We’ve got to keep our doctors and nurses safe. They need personal protective equipment. And we need to have enough test kits so that we’re testing not just people who are being admitted to the hospital or showing high fevers, but we’re testing in the population on a regular basis. That’s our best chance in dealing with it.

But it all comes down to having a plan.

Ezra Klein

The White House has taken the attitude that this is mainly a problem for states and localities to respond to, and to the extent they’re asking for federal help, it reflects failures on their part. What is the specific role for the federal government here? What can they do that others cannot?

Elizabeth Warren

The White House is just simply wrong on the notion that somehow the states can manage this on their own. We need a national response. Think about what I was just talking about. It is the federal government that can order the tests. It is the federal government that can use the Defense Production Act in order to force companies to produce the test kits, the masks, the gowns, the kinds of things that we actually need in a crisis. The states don’t have the power to do that. Only the federal government does.

President Donald Trump, in a navy suit, looks past a bulletproof glass divider after a speech in New York.

President Donald Trump after a November 2019 speech.
Ira L. Black/Corbis/Getty Images

Look at what’s happening when the states are out there trying, for example, to buy these masks in a market with no rules. What happens is states end up bidding against each other. New York bids against Massachusetts and they both are bidding against Arizona and California. That’s great for whoever is sitting on a couple of million masks, but it’s sure not good for the states that desperately need these masks and are paying more and more and more just to get basic supplies. It is the federal government that can allocate these masks not based on who bids the highest price, but where there’s a real need. That is what a federal government that has a plan can do.

The other half of this is the economic half. Only the federal government can cushion the economic blow here in a meaningful way. The state of Massachusetts, for example, already predicts that we’re going to have a $3 billion shortfall because expenses have gone up dramatically as we’re trying to support people out of work, those who need shelter, and our hospitals. At the same time, revenue has gone down. Taxes won’t come in until July 1, and with a lot of small businesses closing and a lot of people out of work, tax revenues are likely to be lower.

It is only the federal government that can actually print money in a time of crisis. Only the federal government that can deficit spend. Massachusetts, as a matter of our state constitution, cannot engage in deficit spending. So it’s the federal response that we need both on the health front and on the economic front.

Ezra Klein

I want to pick up on this idea of the federal government as an allocator of resources. It does seem that the government is allocating resources, but Florida is getting everything it has asked for and Kentucky is getting more than it asked, while Massachusetts, among others, is getting less than it asks for.

There have been concerns that the way the Trump administration is allocating these resources is based on which states they feel have been politically friendly to them and which states they feel are important for them in 2020. Do you think that’s true?

Elizabeth Warren

Donald Trump has made clear for years now that he cares about exactly one thing: Donald Trump. It’s all politics all the time. And now he’s focused on how Donald Trump is going to get reelected. That invades every decision that he makes.

So just look at the data you cited. How can it be that Kentucky and Florida get 100 percent or 100 percent-plus of what they need while Massachusetts doesn’t? I think anyone would look at that and say it’s Donald Trump playing politics once again.

Ezra Klein

In your plan earlier, you talked about testing and about getting health resources out. But what comes next? I think one of the most damaging parts of there being no clear national plan is that people who are sheltered in place, like me, have no idea how long that will last or what will come after. If you are creating the plan, what would you tell people comes after social distancing? What is phase two of the public health response?

Elizabeth Warren

It’s a great question. The first part of this is to collect as much data as we can. That’s what testing should be all about: so we can keep watching where the hot spots are and how this plays out over time. Who’s most affected? Where do we need to intensify our resources in terms of a response?

A nurse takes a swab at a Covid-19 drive-through testing station in Manchester, UK.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

But there’s the second part to it to think about. Over time, we’re going to have a growing proportion of the population that is immune because they’ve had the coronavirus and they’ll have antibodies. That means there are going to be people who can go out and start engaging in the activities we need, helping restart both our economy and helping support our health care system. We need to start to think of them as a resource, both getting us through the worst part of this crisis and also helping us to restart parts of this economy as quickly as possible. But that only happens if we’re collecting that data.

Ezra Klein

We are, as a country, testing far fewer people per capita than, say, South Korea. What is your view of the testing failure? Why did it take so long to roll the testing out? And what is needed to get this scaled up quickly?

Elizabeth Warren

The reason we didn’t have testing early on was plain old politics. Donald Trump didn’t want to see those numbers.

Remember when [Trump] said that he didn’t want people to disembark from the ship that had an infection? He said he didn’t want the numbers to go up, meaning the confirmed number of cases at that point.

I believe that the reason that the Trump administration wouldn’t buy the World Health Organization test kits was they didn’t want them. They didn’t want to see a crisis here in America. I think this is part of a mindset that a president believes that he can just declare how the world works and somehow the world will conform to him. And, boy, that doesn’t work in reality. It sure doesn’t work in a pandemic.

Ezra Klein

That point about mindset is interesting. When I look back at your January plan, what is striking about it is you were looking at coronavirus at a time when it was not yet primarily here. It was a problem in China. And the question was, can we contain it? That plan was very much about how to surge global public health, how to make sure we are getting good global testing results, how to make sure that we are in good information flows with other countries.

What we’re seeing right now as the Trump administration responds politically to coronavirus is a sharp increase in tensions with China. There is a very aggressive effort to get American companies to stop exporting to other countries, even if that means — in critical ways — other countries will stop giving us things that we need.

Can you talk a bit about the difference between approaching a global health crisis like coronavirus from the perspective that we are in transactional competition with all these other nations, versus a positive-sum perspective?

Elizabeth Warren

What you’re asking is the question we face all the time around climate change: We may be in competition with other countries economically and politically, but when it comes to saving the planet, we have to find a way to work together. There’s no such thing as saving the United States of America and letting the rest of the planet burn up. That won’t happen.

The same is true about a pandemic. We live in a world where if this disease spreads in one country and one region, then it’s going to reach all around the globe. And it’s going to do it fast. Part of the failure of this administration is that their mindset is to build a wall rather than work cooperatively with other countries to address the risks that we all face. Had we helped contain this earlier, the spread might have been slower — it might have been arrested entirely. China is not blameless. But, even so, we should be supporting international information sharing.

I also believe that a big part of foreign relations is a value statement about who we are. Yes, we have terrible problems with Iran and Iran’s development of its plan to develop a nuclear weapon and its support for terrorism. But Iran is in the throes of a true crisis of enormous proportions. This is a moment when we could offer a generous hand to the Iranian people, and demonstrate both to them and to the rest of the world that we want to do our best to build a world where everyone is treated with some dignity and some respect. The idea that the Trump administration wants to use this moment of crisis as a way to sharpen our pressure on other nations and throw elbows economically — I just think is fundamentally the wrong approach.

I don’t think that’s who we want to be as a nation. And, frankly, I don’t think it makes us safer over the long run. I think we build more security for the United States when we try to work with other nations and treat other human beings with respect.

Ezra Klein

I want to hold on this point for a minute, because what you’re saying, something your colleague, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), said to me, which is that if you look at the federal budget, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year buying insurance against the possibility of a Russian attack. We spend almost no money buying insurance against the possibility of a global pandemic.

Someone who thinks a lot about issues of risk made the argument to me that we take risk very seriously if we can locate it in an external enemy, like another country or a terrorist group. But when there is a risk that would affect the whole world, that cannot be seen as adversarial — risks like climate change and pandemics — we tend to downplay or ignore them. I’m curious if you think there’s truth to that.

Elizabeth Warren

I very much agree with what you’ve just described, but I think there’s another dimension to understanding it. Think about the two kinds of threat that you’ve just talked about. One is the kind that we’ve understood since the time that human beings lived in caves. And that is punching each other, competing for resources, using ever-sharper weapons.

But the second kind [requires] a better understanding of the world around us, the world of threats to our health and, ultimately, threats to the planet we live on. What troubles me so deeply about the past three years in the Trump administration has been the hostility to science — and not just the science of climate change. Driving the scientists out of the Department of Agriculture. To disregard what our scientists tell us about the world around us puts this country and this world in grave danger.

Ezra Klein

I want to move our conversation to the economy. We saw more than 6 million new unemployment claims this week. For those not used to looking at this data, that is apocalyptic; it makes the Great Recession disappear on a chart.

Christina Animashaun/Vox

There’s been an argument going around that we are facing a choice between our economy and our lives. We’ve heard from some people, including from President Trump, that we cannot let the cure of social distancing be worse than the disease. Do you think that is the choice — our economy or our lives — we’re facing? Is that the right way to frame it?

Elizabeth Warren

No, that is not the right way to frame it. These two work together. Saving lives strengthens our economy, and strengthening our economy can help us save lives. The idea that there is a choice between those two, and somehow they are in competition with each other, is just flatly wrong.

Let me talk about this at two levels. First, what does it mean to be a nation if we’re not here to take care of our own people? The first job of the president of the United States of America is to help keep Americans safe. What that means in a time of a pandemic, then, is making sure that we have adequate health care — that we have a plan to deal with this crisis.

It is also the case that it’s just false on the economics. There’s a great new white paper out at the Safra Center at Harvard that talks about three possible responses to the pandemic. One is really hardcore sheltering for a truly extended period of time. One is about sheltering to try to flatten the curve and moving back into some economic activity over time. And the third is to just give up and say it’s the economy and nothing more.

It turns out the costliest is to say it is only about the economy and let people go about their business. The reason that is the costliest is that it causes the maximum number of deaths, and deaths are costly. We lose the benefit of those lives. They use what is the standard dollar value we put on a life and show that it will be far more expensive if we just let this pandemic race through our country, without trying to take these measures to protect the lives of people. These two things are not in tension. If we want to strengthen our economy, then we need to solve this medical problem.

Ezra Klein

You were deeply involved not only in the policy response to the financial crisis, but also in making sense of it for people. That was a financial panic that froze much of the real economy, and the problem was in supporting businesses and people to unfreeze. Now we have frozen much of the economy by choice.

What is different in how people need to think about the economic needs and policies here compared to the financial crisis? If you’re coming into this with 2008 as the operative metaphor in your mind, how do you need to change the way you’re looking at it?

Elizabeth Warren

The first thing that changes is there’s such a powerful health overlay to everything we’re looking at. You can’t just say, let’s have an infrastructure package and send everybody to work on this piece of infrastructure. We still have to worry about contagion. That changes everything we think about in terms of getting people back to work.

The second part of it is that it touches the economy in a very different way. In the 2008 crash, everyone could still go to work. The problem was whether or not the money system would freeze up. This time it’s different. Small businesses are leading the shutdown, not because they can’t get access to money, but because they can’t have workers there and can’t access their customers.

So you have to think about this differently. For example, the tool of simply getting money into the hands of tens of millions of people across this country is critically important. Why? Because we want them to buy food. If they buy food, we keep that part of the economy functioning. We need that supply chain to keep working so that the grocery stores are still stocked. And that only happens if customers are coming in. Then the grocery stores buy from the wholesalers and the wholesalers are buying from the farmers and from the canners and other producers. And the truckers are still up and running. We want to keep that supply chain functional — both for the health of the American people and for the health of the economy. And that only happens if people have money to buy food.

People wearing masks wait to enter a Shop Rite supermarket on April 3 in Uniondale, New York.
Al Bello/Getty Images

The question about people being able to stay in shelter is a little different. Do we give people money so they can make their mortgage payment and rent payment, or do we just say we’re going to freeze debt collection so that nobody gets evicted? Nobody gets foreclosed against, nobody gets a bad credit rating during this. But we’re gonna have to hit the pause button here on people making their payments for shelter, and for those owners of those properties making their payments. So you have to think about this structurally in a different way.

One of the lessons from 2008 was that, frankly, the Republicans just wouldn’t go for a big enough stimulus package. And that meant the recovery was slower and more anemic than it would have been had we put more money into stimulus. They were determined not to let Barack Obama have that kind of power in the recovery. And we paid a price for it as a nation. We’re still paying a price for it. Now, it’s the same kind of thing. We’ve got to have a strong enough response to support our families, to support our small businesses, to keep the parts of this economy functioning that are absolutely essential for our physical health and ultimately for our economic security.

Ezra Klein

In the same way that we talked earlier about two phases of public health response, I think we can also think of two distinct phases on the economic side. What you’re talking about is phase one: putting the economy on life support. That means giving people the money to continue buying groceries and paying rent while at home, and potentially give businesses money through forgivable loans to stay open.

But after we do that for some number of months, some parts of that economy are going to come back and some won’t. Unlike the financial crisis, I don’t think we can just unfreeze the economy we had before — there’s going to be too much damage.

To that end, there have been arguments for different kinds of post-virus mobilizations in response to this crisis. One is a public health mobilization. But also there are different mobilization ideas that have been lurking for some time now, around a Green New Deal or on infrastructure. Are we going to need some kind of economic mobilization, in the way we often see them during wartime?

Elizabeth Warren

One of the mobilization efforts I would add to your list is housing. We’ve had a real problem in this country and that is that we haven’t built enough housing for middle-class families, for working-class families, for the working poor, for the poor-poor, for people with disabilities, for seniors who want to age in place, for people who are returning from prison, for people who are homeless.

I grew up in a two-bedroom, one-bath house built by a private builder. The garage was converted to hold my three brothers. Private builders aren’t building those houses anymore. They build mansions. I’m not mad at them — that’s where the profits are. But the housing that houses middle-class families is just not being built privately anymore. And there’s a federal law in place now that says for every new unit of public housing brought on, the federal government has to take one old unit off.

So when you ask the question about where should we be thinking about mobilization? I think that in this time of crisis, we see the importance of safe, secure, affordable housing for everyone. Over the next few years, we need to expand our housing availability for folks. This is true in cities. It’s true in small towns. It’s true in rural America. It is a widespread problem and it’s a place where we could make a federal investment that, in the short run, gets people off the street and puts people to work in construction. And then in the long run, creates a stronger, more stable housing supply that takes a lot of economic pressure off families.

Ezra Klein

So as we move out of the economic life support period of this, Congress and the administration need to think about a more publicly planned economy to rebuild and create a bridge back to a fully functioning economy?

Elizabeth Warren

I think it’s going to be absolutely necessary. This is a chance to upgrade our energy grid, a chance to harden our infrastructure over time against coming climate change, to make a real investment in public transportation. And those have double economic advantages: They put a lot of people to work, but they also reassure markets and investors that we’re going to build our way out of this depression.

When you have a plan and people can see it, they can start making their plans to supplement that — whether it’s small businesses or it’s big Wall Street investors. We’re going to print money for a while to make it happen, but that’s going to get money down into this economy. That’s going to build up demand. That’s how you build a boom. You don’t do it with stock buybacks. You do it by actually investing in people and in the things that people need.

Ezra Klein

There’s a moral dimension of this I want to ask you about. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of solidarity and sacrifice being demanded of working-class people, of young people — many of whom feel, I think correctly, that America hasn’t shown a lot of solidarity and sacrifice when confronted with their needs in the years before this. What needs to be done with this moment so the people from whom we’ve asked the most feel like this is an ethic that extends to them, not just one that is activated to take from them when needed?

Elizabeth Warren

I want to see us cancel student loan debt. Right now, there’s a six-month hiatus. So we’ve got a little breathing room. But I want to see us cancel a big chunk of this debt or all of this debt. And the reason for that is partly economic: We can now track that student loan debt has been having a negative effect on our economy. It depresses small business startup. Young people are not buying homes. So there’s an economic stimulative effect from doing this.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in 2019, with Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), on legislation to cancel student loan debt for millions of Americans.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Young people have just been left behind. They’ve been cheated. I graduated from a college that cost $50 a semester. I didn’t have a big student loan debt burden because I could go to a school and get an education for a price that you could pay for on a part-time waitressing job. That alternative is just not out there for young people today. And the consequence is young people who try to get an education, who try to invest in their future, have been left out pretty much on their own.

The federal government’s response is to lend you the money at interest and then be your biggest creditor for years and years to come. I think that’s an intergenerational crime. It’s fundamentally wrong. So I think forgiving this debt would not only give a boost to 45 million people, but would also be an acknowledgment that a lot of young folks in this country caught the short end of the stick here.

This economic recession is going to be tough on all of us, but it’s going to be especially tough on people who are graduating into it — on people who are in their first jobs. And I think that canceling out our federal government as their biggest creditor would be a way of acknowledging that and saying: It’s your future that we want to invest in.

Ezra Klein

When you look back on the Democratic primary, given what’s happening now, does it feel like the debate was focused on the wrong things?

Elizabeth Warren

I don’t think so. I think we talked a lot about the role of government — a government that is either working just for the rich and the powerful, or a government that’s working for everyone else. In this crisis, that truly is the issue.

Remember Ronald Reagan’s famous line? “The worst words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Those are not the worst words in the English language. We’ve seen during this crisis that among the worst words in the English language are, “We’re in a crisis and the government doesn’t have a plan to help us get out of it.”

The idea that somehow we’re all going to be better off with a government that doesn’t invest in science and in long-term planning has been shown not only to be wrong, but to be dangerous. I think that what the election in 2020 is going to be about, in part, is people who want a government that is competent and that is on their side in planning for an uncertain future.

You can listen to the full episode by subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Bad Credit

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.

The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”

The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.

In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?



Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Bad Credit

Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune



By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit and or email; you also can follow her on Facebook ( and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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