An excessive increase in loans for households is never a good sign.
Heather Turner and her husband needed a few thousand dollars to jump-start the adoption of a teenager from Ukraine, and their timing was good: Lenders led by online firms have opened the spigot for personal loans, even if it comes at a steep price.
Personal loans surged to a record this year and are the fastest-growing U.S. consumer-lending category, according to data from credit bureau TransUnion. Outstanding balances rose about 18 percent in the first quarter to $120 billion. Fintech companies originated 36 percent of total personal loans in 2017 compared with less than 1 percent in 2010, Chicago-based TransUnion said.
The Turners, of Lewiston, Maine, needed a speedy loan and didn’t want to borrow against their house or car. Heather Turner said LendingClub arranged a 3-year loan for less than $10,000 last October at an interest rate around 23 percent — similar to that of a credit card. Most notably, the loan is unsecured.
“Is it a perfect loan? No,” Turner said in an interview. “We didn’t expect some low-interest personal loan with no collateral.”
The private equity firms making these loans have become very effective in litigating defaults and extracting the money back from the people who take the loans.
The check arrived out of the blue, issued in his name for $1,200, a mailing from a consumer finance company. Stephen Huggins eyed it carefully.
A loan, it said. Smaller type said the interest rate would be 33 percent.
Way too high, Huggins thought. He put it aside.
A week later, though, his 2005 Chevy pickup was in the shop, and he didn’t have enough to pay for the repairs. He needed the truck to get to work, to get the kids to school. So Huggins, a 56-year-old heavy equipment operator in Nashville, fished the check out that day in April 2017 and cashed it.
Within a year, the company, Mariner Finance, sued Huggins for $3,221.27. That included the original $1,200, plus an additional $800 a company representative later persuaded him to take, plus hundreds of dollars in processing fees, insurance and other items, plus interest. It didn’t matter that he’d made a few payments already.
“It would have been cheaper for me to go out and borrow money from the mob,” Huggins said before his first court hearing in April.
Most galling, Huggins couldn’t afford a lawyer but was obliged by the loan contract to pay for the company’s. That had added 20 percent — $536.88 — to the size of his bill.
“They really got me,” Huggins said.