How to Protect Yourself From Predatory Lending

Predatory lending has long been a problem for consumers. There is no exact definition of a predatory lender, but in general, these lenders either try to overcharge consumers for loans, or talk them into riskier loans that come with higher interest rates. Predatory lenders have one goal: They want to make as much money as possible on their loans, regardless of whether the loan product actually makes financial sense for the consumers.

How, exactly, do people fall for this? It's actually not surprising when you understand the degree of manipulation predatory lenders will use. By targeting mainly elderly, low-income, or simply uninformed victims, these financial predators bank on convincing folks with poor or no credit that they have no other options for obtaining financing.

If you don't fit the above criteria, don't think you're completely off their radar, either. Should you ever lose your job, need cash for an emergency, or suddenly find yourself facing steep medical bills, you just might be the next target of a predatory lender.

Worried that a predatory lender might have targeted you? Here are the warning signs.

The Lender Wants You to Sign Now

Honest lenders will never pressure you to sign loan documents before you are comfortable. Legitimate lenders give you time to study the paperwork and research the fees and rates associated with the loan.

Predatory lenders want you to sign paperwork as quickly as possible. That way, they can stick you with their high-cost loans before you have the chance to research lower-cost alternatives. Never do business with a lender who pressures you to act quickly. The odds are high that such a lender is a predator.

The Interest Rate Suddenly Rises

Predatory lenders like to entice new customers by advertising below-market interest rates on their websites or print ads. But when you actually call these lenders, you're told that you don't qualify for these low rates. Once these lenders have you on the phone, they'll try to convince you to sign up for a loan with a far higher rate.

Don't fall for this trick. Companies that advertise interest rates that are far lower than their competitors are usually not trustworthy. The odds are high that these are predatory lenders trying to trick gullible borrowers.

They Tell You Not to Worry About Your Credit Score

Legitimate lenders rely heavily on your FICO credit score to determine if you should qualify for a loan and at what interest rate. This score tells lenders how well you've paid your bills in the past.

Beware of lenders who say that your credit score doesn't matter or that they can approve you for a loan no matter how low your score is. Lenders who make these promises will charge you sky-high interest rates because they know that you're desperate for a loan. You're much better off working to improve your credit score than taking out a costly high-interest-rate loan. Pay all your bills on time and pay down as much of your credit card debt as possible. Slowly, but steadily, your credit score will start to rise, and you can avoid the high rates of predatory lenders. (See also: 5 Ways to Pay Off High Interest Credit Card Debt)

The Lender Asks You to Lie

Making false claims about your income or debt on a loan application is a crime, and you could face significant fines if you do. Predatory lenders, though, might encourage you to inflate your income or provide other false information.

Ignore this temptation. No legitimate lender will ask you to lie on an application. Instead, lenders will take extra steps to make sure that the information you do provide on an application is true. For instance, they'll ask you to provide copies of your most recent paycheck stubs, bank account statements, and tax returns to verify your income.

Your Lender Tries to Talk You Into a Riskier Loan

Be careful if your lender continues to push a loan that sounds risky. Maybe you want to apply for a fixed-rate loan with a term of 15 or 30 years. If your lender pressures you to instead apply for an interest-only loan with a balloon payment — or something equally as complicated or risky — walk away. Legitimate lenders will never try to talk you into a loan that you don't want.

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