The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum
Once upon a time in the United States "loan sharking" was considered a social disease. Now, it is "public policy," formulated, embraced and protected by a Congress that has sold its soul to the money lenders.

Congressmen and congresswomen like loan sharks. They make sizeable campaign contributions in return for permission to gouge consumers with exorbitant fees and unconscionable interest rates. They constitute a federally-sanctioned Mafia.

Read the fine print of your credit card agreement. It is a license to steal.


A 70-year-old Nebraska woman who called the USD Senior Legal Helpline read her agreement after she found herself confronted with "universal default penalties," "late payment fees," a shrinking grace period, and a 37 percent interest rate.

"I didn't believe a person could get into so much trouble in such a short period of time," she said. "I don't know where to turn or what to do. They keep calling me. And now, they tell me I can't discharge their debts because of the new bankruptcy law."

Her monthly income consists of $664 from Social Security and $444 from a military widow's pension. Her husband died nine years ago. She worked part-time until 10 months ago when she had a stroke.

"I kept thinking I would get better. But now they tell me my working days are over," she said. She used the credit card monies to pay medical bills not covered by Medicare and two appliances damaged when her house was struck by lightning.

The new bankruptcy law, which took effect last October, will not prevent her from taking bankruptcy, but it will be more difficult and more expensive. She will be required to obtain credit counseling prior to filing and financial management counseling prior to the discharge of her debts.

Twenty-seven states have no limit on what bank credit card issuers can charge for interest rates or annual fees. California, Delaware, South Dakota and Tennessee offer the least protection. They have no maximums on delinquency fees, cash advance fees, over-the-limit fees, transaction fees, stop payment fees, ATM fees and mandatory grace periods.

"Please warn people about this," said the caller. I just did.

(Pro bono legal information and advice is available to persons 55 and older through the USD Senior Legal Helpline, 1-800-747-1895; mmyers@usd.edu).

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