While the title may seem a bit harsh, this is the reality of what many people think – if you take out a high interest loan then there are very few reasons to do so, the top one being that the person taking out the loan is just plain stupid. Is that the case though, or is that always the case? If so, why are 90% loans even legal?
Maximum interest rates by law
Estonia is currently in the process of regulating maximum interest rates for loans. As it stands, the maximum is to be set at 3x average consumer credit rate, which makes the cap out to be at just about 90% interest. For any investor, 90% returns would be in the realm of magic, which is why such an interest rate for loans raises a lot of questions, why would anyone take out a loan with such an interest rate?
The answer to the question of why anyone would take out such a loan is easy – they aren’t eligible for any other loans. It seems some people (often investors) forget, that the majority of the population isn’t as well off as they are. Whether or not you’re credit worthy depends on many different aspects, and once you fail too many criteria it’s easy to see the interest rates climbing.
Having a low paying (or minimum wage) job, living outside of the capital, having multiple children, not having enough education etc. are all warning signs for creditors that increase your risk levels exponentially. While most people who have their finances in order can easily enjoy the chance to take out 9-12% consumer credit loans when necessary they are definitely a minority in the population.
This is one of the reasons why I’m in favour of capping interests, but against outlawing things like SMS loans for example. In Estonia, SMS loan has more than 100 000 customers! They are clearly offering a service that people need (and I agree that it’s super sad how many people need the service!). However, if we ban the service, what will people do? Steal? Get illegal loans from someone? While we can and should educate people, just cutting people off from money when they need it is not a good plan in the long run.
How bad are 90% loans?
Many people (rightly so!) believe that 90% loans are super expensive in terms of interest paid in the long run. The problem being, most people don’t really assess their loans in terms of the ratio of interest vs principal but they look at the monthly total payment. If they can afford the monthly payment then everything is OK, despite the fact that the interest rate might be insane.
I made a chart that shows monthly payback sums for a 1000€ loan with various interest rates for 1 year and 3 years. While you can see the totals climbing at an alarming rate, you don’t see the steep growth for monthly payments – every 10% of extra interest only increases the payment by about 5-6 euros. That’s not enough to make people really consider not taking out the loans.
How to fix this?
As boring as the solution is, then more financial education is the way here. How effective that would be, is however, questionable. The high interest loans are theoretically OK as long as people are capable of making the payments.
The problems arise when people miss payments, and the interest and penalties start stacking up at an alarming rate, causing the situation where the interest owed is multiples of the original principal payment. That’s when we have a problem that has caused tens of thousands of Estonians to default on loans and the law has failed to protect them from their “stupidity”.
However, it’s not just stupidity that’s making people take out high interest loans – it’s lack of financial awareness, its difficult financial situations and a lack of emergency funds and living from pay-day to pay-day, all of those not as easy to change as we’d wish them to be.