But when I received an email telling me that Montel is now doing commercials for Money Mutual, a company that offers short-term loans with no credit check, I found that to be quite interesting.
No grace period means that you'll start accruing interest the moment you charge something and that can cost you a bundle of "extra" interest. Most credit card issuers have already reduced their grace period from 25 days to 20 days. Many others have eliminated the grace period altogether. Now they are coming up with more and more reasons to take away your grace period. Miss a payment? Stop carrying a balance? Bye-bye grace period!
No, Montel is not a crook. And neither are Magic Johnson and Russell Simmons, two other people who have loaned their names to companies (Rent-a-Center and The Rush Card) that want to give us access to capital. Instead, they are pure, hardcore capitalists: individuals who are willing to endorse the idea of charging you a very high price to give you something you very desperately need. Many people in America right now are cash poor: they don't have bank accounts, or their financial literacy is low and they have trouble making it from paycheck to paycheck. Then Russell, Magic and Montel come along touting products that help people to solve their problems, the same way that a Good Samaritan offers a thirsty man a drink.
The challenge, however, is that one has to wonder if it is right to offer the thirsty man a drink for $50 dollars? Should we take advantage of the fact that he needs water in order to live or does that make us exploitative? All the while, even if we charge the man $50 dollars for his drink, we can still argue that we are helping him out. That is the dilemma of payday loan companies and those who endorse them: they charge incredibly high interest rates to people who really need the money and may not necessarily be able to understand the fine print.
Magic Johnson, Montel Williams and Russell Simmons can sell these products mainly because they are brown skinned, easily-recognized figures in urban America. Let's be clear: they are selling these products to people who are often poor and Latino or black. Increasingly members of all communities are in need of such expensive loan products. Should we be offended by their actions and activities? It depends on where you stand.
Personally, I'd like to see another brown-skinned person get involved: Barack Obama. President Obama, in the midst of his quest for stronger consumer protection laws, should create competition for companies that are accused of imposing usurious interest rates on the poor in exchange for helping them receive basic banking and access to capital. He should impose stronger laws to keep companies from earning a profit that exceeds that which should be earned in a competitive market. He should support programs to increase financial literacy within urban communities and nation-wide, so that consumers know they have a choice.
It's OK for these guys to go out and make their money, but unregulated capitalism in poor communities is almost never a good thing. Perhaps their collective conscience will kick in and get them to reconsider, but I seriously doubt that will happen. That's why President Obama needs to step in.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.