• screenshot of Slate's website

    How bankers get away with breaking the law

    For Slate, I wrote about CashCall vs. CFPB, a case where a subprime lending tycoon systematically broke laws of states like Virginia, New York, and North Carolina that make it illegal to charge sky-high interest rates. In most states with anti-usury laws, if you give out an illegal loan, the borrower isn’t obligated to pay any of the loan back: therefore, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau argued that CashCall should have to refund all the interest it collected to consumers as restitution. CashCall argued it didn’t realize it had broken any laws (lol…), and judges seem to have found this argument persuasive.

  • Image of linked article on front page of The Outline

    New visions for banking

    For The Outline, I sat down with the founders of the Pagan Credit Union project to hear about their aspirations for the financial sector. People who want to start ethical alternatives to big banks are up against significant obstacles. According to data from the National Credit Union Administration, we lost about 800 credit unions from 2014 to 2018.

  • An image of a Tide Pod (which is blue, green and white) and an Arm and Hammer detergent pod, which is only white and is less visually appealing

    How the lessons of Tide Pods could clean up the credit card industry

    While popular, Tide Pods are staggeringly dangerous for young children and people with disabilities. Proctor and Gamble launched the Tide Pods in 2012.  In 2011, 2,862 children were hospitalized because of laundry-detergent related injuries. In 2013, that number was triple: 9,004 children were driven to hospitals by laundry detergent.   The problem isn’t that Tide Pods are uniquely toxic, or contain chemicals never used before. The problem is that they’re cute. They’re colorful. And they’re small. It’s the good things about Tide Pods that we have to change to make them safer.   What Tide Pods teach us about consumer product safety is that it’s not always the “bad parts” of…

  • The space between want and need

    I’m now on Day 13 on my road trip at my aunt and uncle’s farm in Blue Earth County, Minnesota — today is the first day of the planting season for corn. It’s getting a late start because of all the rain. My next stop will be in Iowa. If there’s one comment that has come up in most of my interviews with the people who wished they hadn’t borrowed money on a credit card, it’s that they used the card for things they realized they “didn’t really need.” That word “really” hints at the notion that there is actually a lot of ambiguous space in between want and need.…

  • Cryptocurrencies are pointless. You should pay attention to them anyway.

    I have never been hyped up about Bitcoin, the “blockchain,” or cryptocurrencies. The basic premise behind Bitcoin is that it’s a currency you can send anywhere nearly instantly. The computing power of the millions of bitcoin “miners” is used to solve math problems which create a secure record of every Bitcoin transaction – that record of transactions is called the “ledger.” The miners get paid for keeping the system running by receiving a share of the small amount of new Bitcoins that are being continuously released. Anyone can see the code, and everything is “decentralized” — instead of a single central bank or government holding the power, lots of people participate…

  • Are credit card rewards even good for consumers?

    Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that merchants like Home Depot, Target, and Amazon are becoming increasingly frustrated with the high fees they pay to accept rewards credit cards, and are seeking relief from the courts or through negotiations with Visa and Mastercard.   Particularly, merchants are looking for the networks Visa and Mastercard to end their ‘honor all cards’ rules, which say that if you accept any Visa credit card you need to accept all Visa credit cards, and ditto with Mastercard. Today, if you spend $100 at a large grocery store, Visa would charge the store a $2.20 processing fee if you used a top-tier rewards credit…

  • What’s happening with consumer financial protection around the world

    In the United States, there hasn’t been much positive policy action on consumer financial protection recently, at least not at the federal level. But regulators and policy-makers in the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore have been trying a range of solutions, some incremental and some radical, to make life better for borrowers in their countries. You can read more in my post for the Duke Global Financial Markets Center’s FinReg blog.