An investigation by a local ABC affiliate uncovered that Wells Fargo and other large U.S. banks finance many predatory lenders that target minority borrowers with high-interest fees.
WFAA, a Dallas ABC affiliate, explored how large banks won’t lend to, but continue to make money off minority residents in southern Dallas, including buying and profiting from low-income apartments that perpetuate crime and blight.
According to the investigation, Southern Dallas has 88 payday lender storefronts. Payday lenders offer quick loans marketed as a way to pay for rent, or a necessary car repair. However, deep in the fine print are interest rates of up to 400% that are nearly impossible to pay off.
Last Week Tonight did a segment in 2014 detailing how these loans drive minority customers into debt quickly with significant interest fees. Texas was one of the states featured in the segment.
The states Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner is tasked with regulating payday, auto title, installment, and pawn lenders. However, state law allows payday and other lenders to charge interest rates and fees far in excess of what a traditional bank would charge.
The investigation searched public records filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and found 20 banks including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Texas-based banks such as the Capital Bank of Texas, TBK Bank, and Independent Bank have either recently funded or are currently funding predatory lenders.
FirstCash, based in Fort Worth, describes itself as the leading international operator of pawnshops, operates close to 3000 stores and charges up to 240% interest on a loan. The investigation revealed Wells Fargo, Texas Capital Bank, and Bank of Texas are all creditors to the company.
World Finance, another high-cost lender that offers installment loans, where a person borrows a set amount of money all at one time. The borrower then can repay the loan over a fixed number of payments, called installments.
These loans carry between 80% and 113% interest and a 2015 SEC filing shows Wells Fargo committed $200 million to World Finance. Bank of America, was also a longtime lender for World Finance, but terminated its relationship with the company last year and began its own lending service called Balance Assist, which allows customers to borrow up to $500, for a $5 fee, with much better terms and interest rates.
Wells Fargo, which paid almost $8 million to settle a class-action suit in a hiring bias lawsuit last year, responded to the investigation in a statement.
“Wells Fargo provides credit and services to companies in a variety of financial services industries,” spokesperson Camille Brewer wrote. “We have relationships with companies that have demonstrated a strong, ongoing commitment and capability to comply with applicable laws and regulations to their business operations.”
Black American and Latino households make up less than half of all households in the state (45%), however, they make up 74% of payday loan customers according to WFAA.