NEW YORK, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Though not directly involved in the $13 billion pay day loan industry, major American banks are facing scrutiny for how they handle them, officials said.
The most egregious of the pay day loaners charge interest rates of 500 percent or more and force customers to authorize automatic online debits to satisfy the wild interest fees, The New York Times reported Saturday. Though many states have sought to end the practice by limiting interest rates, such lenders have taken their act online, making it difficult for regulators to keep them at bay, the Times said.
Though the lenders are often websites, major banks play a role by allowing the lenders to continually access a customer's account, sometimes even after the customer has pleaded with their bank to stop allowing the payments to go through or to close the account entirely.
"Without the assistance of the banks in processing and sending electronic funds, these lenders simply couldn't operate," said Josh Zinner, co-director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, which works with community groups in New York.
While banking industry experts say banks aren't in a position to determine which automatic debits go through, others have charged they're happy to turn a blind eye toward the practice because it frequently results in overdraft fees and other charges that can rack up money for the bank.
The Times cited two New York women who took out payday loans. Both banking with Chase, the women said they asked to have the debits stop when they became financially crippling. One woman said Chase charged her $812 in fees and deducted over $600 from her child-support payments in a month -- on top of what she still owed the lender on what was initially an $1,100 loan. Another woman said six lenders tried accessing her account 55 times. Chase charged her $1,523 in fees -- a combination of 44 insufficient fund fees, extended overdraft fees and service fees.
Both women said they begged the bank to stop allowing payments to go through and close the accounts. Chase said it is working with customers who face pay day loan problems but didn't comment directly on the customers' complaints.
The lenders operate outside New York law, which caps interest rates at 25 percent.