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Grandma Challenges Real Estate Giant In Early Test Of New California Law



Jocelyn Foreman was full of nervous energy and dread.

It was a crisp morning in early March. She arrived at the Pleasant Hill Community Center to find a handful of men and women in a semicircle outside the sandstone-colored building, clutching folders and holding cellphones.

They were there for a foreclosure auction, poised to bid on the house that Foreman rents: a single-story, 1,500-square-foot tract home in Pinole. It’s a simple home — set back from the street — with a steep sloping backyard, worn carpets and a roof that leaks when it rains.

A man with a clipboard started the bidding at $175,000. A woman in a maroon sweatshirt and another man offered competing bids. First $176,000. Then $177,000. Then $180,000.

“They just kept going higher and higher and higher,” Foreman said.

The bidding finally stopped at $600,000. Foreman’s stomach dropped. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my God.’ ”

Foreman had hoped she would be able to buy the house and continue living there thanks to a new state law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last fall, that is designed to prevent pandemic profiteering — and give tenants like her a path to homeownership.

But the law, which allows tenants and nonprofits a 45-day window to match any bid made at a foreclosure auction, provides no money to fund the purchases. So that means Foreman will have to find a way to raise the money herself.

To Foreman, 50, a Black mother of five and grandmother of three, the house in Pinole is much more than a place to rent. She’d been homeless for the better part of the past 20 years, and it was only after she began renting the home in 2018 that she had been able to pay her bills on time and find stability.

“I thought I was breaking the cycle,” she said. “And then I felt like my dreams and my memories were being auctioned away.”

Foreman chased after the woman with the winning bid, to find out who her new landlord would be.

The woman said, “Wedgewood.”

Foreman knew the name. The Redondo Beach real estate firm drew national scrutiny last year after a group of Black homeless mothers occupied a vacant house the company owned in West Oakland. The occupiers, who called themselves Moms 4 Housing, sought to spotlight increasing corporate ownership of housing, which they said had led to rising rents and growing homelessness.

But despite that controversy, and a global pandemic that’s caused mass unemployment, Wedgewood has continued to buy houses.

In fact, a review of public documents by KQED reveals the company went on a spending spree during the pandemic — funneling at least $152.6 million through a network of shell companies to purchase no fewer than 276 properties throughout California. All but 15 of those properties are single-family homes, like Foreman’s three-bedroom house in Pinole.

Some houses have been quickly flipped for a profit. For example, Wedgewood bought a single-story, shell-pink bungalow in North Berkeley last September for $1.15 million and then sold it for $1.71 million in March, after installing new appliances and slapping on a fresh coat of slate-gray paint.

“This is the system we’re up against,” said Steve King, the executive director of the nonprofit Oakland Community Land Trust. “Trying to carve out ways that we can retain some of these properties in the community’s hands, that’s the real challenge.”

Wedgewood declined multiple requests for a phone interview.

“All we know is we bought a house and it is occupied,” company founder and CEO Greg Geiser wrote in an email. Geiser added that he knew someone wanted to match the firm’s offer, but that neither he, nor the company, knew who that was.

Wedgewood’s buying binge continued after the law went into effect in January, KQED found, with the company acquiring at least 102 homes. The properties were purchased across 22 California counties and, in almost every case, the company paid in cash.

That has left Foreman in a race against time. She has until April 18 to match Wedgewood’s bid on the house in Pinole. But the odds are not in her favor. With bad credit and no savings, she doesn’t qualify for a mortgage. Nor would the $2,100 she pays in rent cover the mortgage payments for a $600,000 home.

So, she’s going to need cash — and a lot of it — or she’s afraid she’ll be forced to leave. Foreman reached out to a nonprofit legal aid organization who helped launch an online fundraising effort on her behalf.

The House That Moms Built

When they occupied the house in West Oakland, the women behind Moms 4 Housing argued Wedgewood’s rise was part of a fundamental shift in the housing market marked by a seismic transfer of wealth from individuals to corporations. That shift, they said, began in the wake of the Great Recession, when nearly 10 million people lost their homes through foreclosure.

Kevin Stein, deputy director of the advocacy group California Reinvestment Coalition, said speculators “were the ones that had a lot of cash on hand at the time and who were realizing there was a great opportunity to make a lot of money even as people were suffering.”

After armed sheriffs’ deputies came to evict the moms, Wedgewood agreed to sell the home to the Oakland Community Land Trust, a nonprofit created in the wake of the Great Recession to buy foreclosed homes and keep them permanently affordable. The home will soon become a transitional shelter for homeless mothers.

The controversy also inspired state Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat who represents Oakland, to introduce legislation reforming the foreclosure process so tenants like Foreman would have the opportunity to compete.

“When I introduced and passed SB 1079, my purpose was to give individual homeowners the ability to compete against corporate [purchasers],” Skinner said.

But while the moms won their fight, there’s no guarantee the new law will help Foreman.

Without any funding attached to the law, tenants of foreclosed properties must raise the entire amount themselves, or secure a traditional mortgage — something that can be difficult for someone with bad credit, little savings or who does not have the ability to borrow from friends and family.

Would-be homeowners could also partner with a nonprofit or land trust to buy the home, as the Oakland moms group did with the Oakland Community Land Trust. But Ian Winters, the executive director of the Northern California Community Land Trust, said that even for groups like his, raising the amount needed on short notice is difficult.

“There are very, very, very few housing organizations and very few nonprofit organizations that are sitting on a giant pile of cash that can afford to regularly shell out $600,000 or $700,000 to purchase a property at auction,” he said.

Money aside, Winters said, his organization still wants to help. So the land trust is working to secure financing to buy Foreman’s property and turn it into permanent, affordable housing.

Under this arrangement, Foreman would eventually secure a traditional mortgage to buy the home at an affordable price, but the trust would maintain ownership of the land. This way, if it’s ever sold, it would still be affordable for the next resident.

As of April 5, however, the $14,916 Foreman had raised online was still a far cry from the $250,000 the land trust estimates it needs to keep the $600,000 home affordable for Foreman.

Legacy Lost

Before Foreman moved in, the house in Pinole had been in the same family for more than 30 years. Reginald Mayfield, a longshoreman for 51 years, bought the house in 1984 and spent his retirement years there.

In the few years before his death in 2018, at age 82, he had planned a major rehab of the 1970s home, and took out a loan on the house. It was a project he planned to complete with his daughter, Rochelle Mayfield.

“I spent a lot of time going to stores, just doing a lot of window shopping, with him,” she said. “I would grumble, but it was fun.”

Although she didn’t grow up at the house, Rochelle said it represented one piece of the legacy her grandparents left for her. They moved to the Bay Area from Texas and Louisiana, as part of the Great Migration, when millions of Southern Black families migrated to the North and West in search of better lives.

Mayfield’s grandparents settled in Oakland and Berkeley, picking up war-time jobs and starting their own businesses.

“One thing that both sets of grandparents had in common was that they bought property,” Mayfield said. “And for Black folks at that time to be able to do that, it’s extraordinary.”

In 2018, Foreman and her teenage children were couch surfing — something they had done on and off since 2002 — when she first heard about the Pinole house. A coworker told her that his uncle, Reginald Mayfield, had just passed away.

Foreman at the time had two jobs. The first was at the Berkeley Unified School District, connecting families in need with food, employment or housing resources. She was also moonlighting as an in-home caregiver.

But she still couldn’t find a place to live that would accommodate her teenage children and didn’t require a brutal commute to her job and to her kids’ school in Berkeley.

When she heard about the vacant home, she contacted Rochelle Mayfield, who was sympathetic to Foreman’s plight and agreed to rent to her.

“I took a chance on her,” Mayfield said, “when she needed someone to take a chance on her.”

Foreman met Mayfield in Oct. 2018 in the parking lot of a Whole Foods to hand over the deposit. Foreman’s car payment was due the same day, so she had to choose: give up her car or put the deposit down?

She handed over the check, and then, after Mayfield left, opened the trunk of her car. There, in neat stacks, were all of her belongings. She took a picture.

“Because in my mind,” Foreman said, “this was going to be the last time I was doing this.”

And Foreman said she hasn’t looked back: “I’ve been on my feet ever since.”

That is, until she got a notice, in February 2020, posted on the front door of her home, saying the house would be sold at a foreclosure auction the following month. Mayfield had been having a hard time making the mortgage payments on both the Pinole home and a house in Richmond she inherited from her mother, where she also lives.

Because of the pandemic, the house in Pinole didn’t actually sell until March, 2021, when Wedgewood made the winning bid.

The company declined to answer questions about whether it intends to resell Foreman’s house or rent it out. California law prevents evictions for nonpayment of rent during the pandemic, but it won’t protect Foreman if Wedgewood decides to sell the property.

A spokesperson for the company said that, in general, Wedgewood sells the homes it buys.

“We’re a real estate company that buys distressed housing and then heavily invests in renovating and restoring the homes as needed,” Wedgewood said in an emailed statement. “We then sell, in partnership with agents throughout the state, to new homeowners, the majority of which are owner-occupants, who have a vested interest in their home and community.”

Driving Up Prices

On its website, Wedgewood describes itself as a “leading acquirer of distressed residential real estate.” The company was founded in 1985 by Geiser with a fix-and-flip business model of buying up cheap foreclosed homes and selling them for a profit.

At a Florida real estate conference in 2015, Geiser called house flipping “hot and sexy” and claimed his company had bought and sold 3,000 homes in the past year, averaging about 250 foreclosure home purchases a month.

“Every day we cover every foreclosure sale from Denver to Seattle up through Idaho down to San Diego,” he told the crowd.

Even so, Geiser bristles at the suggestion that his firm is driving up housing prices by flipping property: “That view is just plain inaccurate,” he said in an email.

Among the houses the company has bought in the last year is a 1912 Victorian on a quiet residential street in North Oakland. Like the house in Pinole, the previous owners’ heirs lost it to the bank after the homeowner passed away.

Wedgewood repainted the tan and brown house in sage green with a golden yellow trim and installed new appliances. But when the new homeowners moved in, they discovered a host of other problems.

One of the homeowners, who declined to give her name, said new lighting fixtures had been installed incorrectly and had to be reinstalled. The electrical wiring had to be updated so the house was safe to inhabit. The chimney was caving in and had to be removed. And the foundation also needed work.

As of April 2, public records linked Wedgewood to at least 143 properties it has purchased in the Bay Area and 719 across the state, the majority of which are single-family homes. The homes are, on average, about 60 years old, and often located in more affordable cities or more affordable neighborhoods, including many communities of color, where residents have seen rents and home prices grow astronomically in recent years.

The company operates using an extensive network of shell companies, including Catamount Properties 2018, LLC, which flipped the North Oakland property. It’s one of at least 40 active entities in California controlled by Wedgewood, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office.

At a recent foreclosure auction in Oakland, a woman in sneakers and a gray sweatshirt represented the company. She bid aggressively on a single-family home in Castro Valley. It ultimately sold to another bidder for $661,100.

While some bidders shook their heads at the eye-popping price, others, like Robert Kramer, a veteran at foreclosure sales, said it doesn’t matter.

“The market (for single-family homes) is going up,” Kramer said. “By the time you get them fixed up and back on the market, there’s typically a pretty healthy profit there — 20% or more.”

The foreclosure rate in California is significantly down from its peak in 2010, and has even declined during the pandemic, largely because of a federal moratorium on foreclosures for federally-backed mortgages.

And Kramer said that means bidders are pushing the prices for foreclosed homes even higher, which makes it difficult for would-be homeowners like Foreman, as well as nonprofit affordable housing providers and community land trusts, to match the winning bid.

“The way foreclosure auctions are structured in California, it’s like the Wild Wild West,” said King, of the Oakland Community Land Trust. “The system is plainly not set up for those properties to be transitioned to some community use.”

A Plea for Funding

Winters, of the Northern California Community Land Trust, says that in order for Skinner’s SB 1079 to be effective, there needs to be funding. Most properties that go to foreclosure have deferred maintenance issues that need to be resolved to ensure the house continues to be livable, not to mention the accumulated cost of unpaid taxes and other fees.

And there needs to be a subsidy, he says, to ensure that those homes are affordable to would-be homeowners, like Foreman.

“There does need to be a revolving pool of money that helps the nonprofit housing sector acquire the property, stabilize it, get it back into use,” he said.

California’s network of community land trusts is lobbying the Legislature for dedicated funding to implement SB 1079 over the next five years. And Sen. Skinner is hoping to create a fund to enable those purchases through this year’s budget process.

Without a subsidy from the state, Winters is relying on the community to come together to fundraise for a subsidy for Foreman’s house, which will ensure it can remain affordable. And even though the land trust has agreed to help Foreman, it hasn’t secured the loan yet.

While those details are being worked out, Foreman is guardedly optimistic. She doesn’t like thinking about where she and her family will go if they can’t raise the money.

“I’ve said repeatedly to myself, ‘I’m not going anywhere,’” she said. “My grandson is not sleeping on somebody’s floor. That’s not going to happen.”


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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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