For generations in the United States, the availability of credit has supported economic opportunity for families. Millions of Americans became homeowners as the result of housing policies during the New Deal and after World War II that made mortgages increasingly safe and affordable. For example, between 1940 and 1960, the nation’s homeownership rate increased from 44 percent to 62 percent—this coming after decades during which fewer than half of all Americans owned their own homes.
Additionally, cards and other forms of consumer credit have enabled American families to access quickly new products and technological advances—from radio and television to cars and computers—without having to save for years to make these purchases. The ready availability of credit also has provided flexibility and convenience to families in the presence of uncertainty.
Traditionally, credit markets have thrived when both the lender and the borrower benefit. As Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, recently stated, “In a healthy credit market, both the borrower and the lender succeed when the transaction succeeds—the borrower meets his or her need and the lender gets repaid.”
But for decades now, a certain category of lender has profited not despite borrower failure but because of it. From subprime mortgage and credit card purveyors to payday and auto title lenders, credit models that make money off of late fees, serial loans, and repossession of collateral have proliferated. Some banks and other financial institutions deliberately make loans that borrowers will be unlikely to repay, load excessive fees onto products that appear otherwise affordable, and offer products that encourage default rather than repayment.