Usury Lawsuits Put Future of a $563 Billion Bond Market at Risk

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(Bloomberg) — A pair of lawsuits targeting entities that JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Capital One Financial Corp. use to bundle credit-card loans into bonds could threaten the future of the $563 billion market for debt backed by consumer obligations.

At issue is whether credit card interest rates can be considered usurious. A Civil War-era piece of legislation has long shielded national banks from having to comply with state regulations, some of which cap the maximum rate on loans at as little as 5%. But borrowers are arguing that the packaging of credit-card debt into notes to sell to investors removes it so far from a bank that the shield shouldn’t apply.

The defendants say the suits are baseless because banks still maintain customer relationships and charge interest — even if they’ve bundled rights to receive the interest into securities.

Should the plaintiffs prevail, the ruling would chill the market for bonds tied to consumer loans, industry groups say, forcing banks to keep more risk on their balance sheets and stifling their ability to extend credit. The fallout could ultimately extended to the $9 trillion mortgage-backed securities market, causing home loans to fall under a patchwork of state regulations, they warn.


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