How To Avoid Falling Victim To Predatory Loans

By Janet Schaaf · March 26, 2024 · 9 minute read

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How To Avoid Falling Victim To Predatory Loans

The allure of a quick loan can be hard to resist when there is a pressing need for immediate cash. The amount of money needed might not be a lot, but it’s needed quickly. Looking for that small loan, though, might lead to lenders who might charge high interest rates and offer loan terms that are difficult to meet.

This is called predatory lending, and it works in the best interest of the lender, not the borrower.

When you know what to look for in a reputable lender, however, it becomes easier to avoid becoming a victim of predatory lending practices.

Guide to Predatory Loans and Avoiding Them

Information and education are a consumer’s best friends when looking for any type of loan. For small loans that seem only to be available through lenders that seem less-than reputable, those two things become even more important.

One piece of information that is important when looking for a loan is knowing what your credit report contains. Consumers can access their credit reports at no charge through Personally identifiable information, such as your name, current and previous addresses, and your Social Security number, are easy to verify.

Making sure other items on your credit report are accurate is also important because this information is used by lenders to assess your creditworthiness. Lenders want to know how many credit cards and loans you have, if you make your debt payments on time, and other factors.

When you have a picture of your overall creditworthiness, it’s time to find a reputable lender to work with. It’s a good idea to compare several lenders to find one you feel comfortable working with and is a good match for your financial needs.

💡 Quick Tip: Before choosing a personal loan, ask about the lender’s fees: origination, prepayment, late fees, etc. One question can save you many dollars.

What Is Predatory Lending?

Predatory lending often targets consumers with poor credit, no credit, low incomes, lack of education, and for other unfair and discriminatory reasons.

Lenders who offer financial products that are typically considered predatory loans do not have the best interest of their clients in mind — their goal is to make a profit at the expense of their client, even if that means engaging in misleading tactics.

Predatory lending may often mean a short-term, high-interest loan that a borrower might have difficulty repaying, potentially leading to a cycle of debt.

Recommended: What to Know Before You Borrow Money Online

Predatory Lending Tactics and Practices

Reputable lenders are likely to be transparent about their interest rates, loan terms, and any fees they might charge, such as a personal loan origination fee or prepayment penalties.

Those engaging in predatory lending, however, may not be as transparent. They may try to hide important details about a loan and steer an applicant toward a loan they may not be able to afford.

To make sure a lender is not engaging in predatory lending practices, here’s a look at some things to avoid.

•   An unlicensed lender: A reputable lender will be licensed in the state they are doing business in and will be expected to uphold certain professional standards set by the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS)®. Consumers can look up the license status of individual and institutional lenders through NMLS Consumer Access℠ .

•   Rushing during the loan process: If you feel like a lender is hurrying you along without addressing your questions or concerns, you might wonder if they’re trying to hide some details about the loan terms or trying to approve you for a loan you might not be able to afford. A reputable lender will take the time to make sure you understand the documents you’re signing at the loan closing and that the loan works for your financial needs.

•   High interest rates and fees: A lender who offers only a high interest rate, one you don’t feel you can afford, probably doesn’t have your best interests in mind. Doing some research on typical interest rates available for your credit score and common fees charged — and comparing lenders who work within those parameters — is a good way to filter out predatory lenders.

•   Overpromising: A lender who tells you they can approve you for a loan regardless of your credit history is likely promising something they won’t be able to deliver on. Lenders typically have thresholds at which they are willing to loan money, outside of which they may decline an applicant.

Recommended: What Is Considered a Bad Credit Score?

Common Types of Predatory Loans

Three common predatory lending examples are payday loans, auto (or title) loans, and subprime mortgages.

Payday loans may come to mind when thinking of predatory loan examples. These types of loans target those who are looking for quick cash and may not think they will qualify for anything else.

Often short-term loans for small amounts, typically $100 to $1,000, payday loans are generally meant to be repaid with the borrower’s next paycheck. They are typically unsecured loans and often have high interest rates. A payday lender may refer to a “fee per $100 loaned” instead of disclosing the annual percentage rate (APR). This tactic hides the extremely high APR that is typical for a payday loan — on average, 400% APR, but can be much higher.

Similar to payday loans, auto title loans are an example of a predatory loan that is often made to an applicant who cannot qualify for a more mainstream loan. The borrower’s vehicle is used as collateral against the loan, with the borrower signing the title over to the lender. If the loan is not repaid, the lender keeps the title and has ownership of the vehicle.

Subprime mortgages are another predatory lending example.

This is a type of mortgage made to a borrower who may not be able to qualify for a conventional mortgage based on the prime rate. Because the lender may perceive this borrower as an increased lending risk, they may offer an interest rate higher than that of a prime mortgage to offset this risk.

What Are Good Lending Practices?

A reputable lender will work with you to find the loan option that best meets your financial needs. That’s not to say it won’t be beneficial to them, but it will be good for both lender and borrower. Just as there are some ways to identify predatory lending, there are ways to identify a lender that does business in an honest manner.

•   Licensed lender. Reputable lenders typically display their lending license for potential clients to see. If you’re meeting with a lender in their office, you may see their license framed and displayed on a wall. If you’re working with an online lender, look for their license information on their website. It might be on their About page, Legal page, or FAQ page.

•   Answering your questions. When you have questions about a lender’s loan options, terminology in the loan agreement, or general lending questions, a reputable lender will take the time to answer them and help you understand the process.

•   Competitive interest rates. Generally, lenders offer a range of rates based on the creditworthiness of each applicant. But they will be competitive with other lenders making the same types of loans.

•   Realistic offers. A lender that has your best interest in mind will do what they can to approve you for a loan that you can afford, not one that you will be at risk of defaulting on. A happy client could mean referrals to other potential clients, and that is generally something a lender strives for.

💡 Quick Tip: Just as there are no free lunches, there are no guaranteed loans. So beware lenders who advertise them. If they are legitimate, they need to know your creditworthiness before offering you a loan.

What Can Be Done if You Are a Victim of a Predatory Loan?

One of the first things you can do if you believe you’re a victim of predatory lending is submit a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The bureau will send the complaint to the lending company and work to resolve the issue. The lending company communicates with both the client and the CFPB about the complaint, generally within 15 days with a final response in 60 days.

All complaints submitted to the CFPB are logged in the public Consumer Complaint Database, which can be a good place to check when comparing lenders you’re considering doing business with.

Personal Loans as an Alternative to Predatory Loans

When you need to borrow money quickly, a predatory loan like a payday loan may not be your only option. Lenders offering personal loans are fairly easy to find in today’s marketplace, and many of them are online lenders, which can make the process more streamlined.

If you’re considering a loan as a method to build your credit, a payday loan may not be the right financial tool. Many payday lenders don’t check an applicant’s credit report when making the loan, nor do they report payments to the credit bureaus. Essentially, even if you make regular, on-time payments, your credit score will not benefit from your diligence.

A reputable personal loan lender, however, will check an applicant’s credit report during the loan approval process and report payments to the credit bureaus. In this case, making regular, timely payments can have a positive affect on your credit profile — and not doing so can have a negative affect.

Recommended: Typical Personal Loan Requirements Needed for Approval

Are Smaller, Short-Term Loans the Same as Predatory Loans?

There are reputable lenders that offer short-term loans for small amounts of money. Predatory lenders will exploit a person’s need for quick cash by trying to trick them into an unfair loan agreement they can’t afford. A reputable lender, on the other hand, will work with you to get a loan for the amount of money you need and that you can afford.

Some lenders do have minimum amounts they will lend, sometimes $3,000 or $5,000. If you don’t need this much money, you’d be better off looking at other lenders. There are lenders that will lend smaller amounts, though — even less than $1,000.

What is the Smartest Way to Get a $5,000 Loan?

A smart way to find a $5,000 unsecured personal loan is to compare interest rates and fees of lenders who loan small amounts. This is easily done through an online personal loan comparison site or by calling a few different lenders. It probably won’t be too difficult to find multiple lenders to compare, as $5,000 is a fairly common personal loan amount.

A good first place to consider is your current bank or credit union. They may offer rate or fee discounts for current customers.

Online lenders may have shorter loan processing times, so if you need the money quickly, that could be a good choice.

Comparing lenders, however, is the smartest thing you can do when you’re looking for a loan.

The Takeaway

There are times in life when a quick infusion of cash is needed to help deal with a financial emergency or other need. To avoid falling victim to predatory lending, it’s a good idea to step back and take some time to compare lenders. Getting a loan from the closest payday lender on the block will likely mean paying extremely high interest rates and fees, and difficulty paying off the loan in a short amount of time.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.


Is predatory lending a crime?

Many states have enacted anti-predatory lending laws. Some states have completely outlawed payday lending, while others have placed caps on the amount lenders can charge. However, many violations go unpunished because consumers aren’t aware of their rights.

What are the most common predatory loans?

The most common types of predatory loans include payday loans, car title loans, and subprime mortgages.

What APR is considered predatory?

Predatory loans generally have interest rates in the triple digits. Loans with annual percentage rates (APRs) no higher than 36% are considered affordable loans.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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