By Ryan C. Wood
The short answers is because the law has been interpreted to allow credit card interest rates to be criminally high. It was not always like this though. You may be thinking to yourself that each state has usury laws limiting interest rates. You are correct but keep reading to find out why it does not matter.
There are price gouging laws in time of emergencies to not allow improper increases in price to make money at the expense of human suffering. There are state usury laws limiting how much interest can be charged when lending money. So why are credit card interest rates so high? If someone is in financial turmoil, financial disaster why are there not laws limiting interest rates on what they can borrow just like you cannot price gouge during natural disasters? How can a bank charge 29% interest on a revolving unsecured credit account? It is like loan sharking right? Loan sharking is illegal right? My best analogy is seatbelt laws. Seatbelt laws save lives. This is a fact and without seatbelt laws requiring wearing seatbelts not as many people would wear seatbelts and vehicle deaths would be higher. Well, The Supreme Court of the United States more or less opened the door to the repeal of seatbelt laws regarding limits on interest rates and people have been getting killed with credit card interest rates ever since. We all need to be saved from ourselves sometimes and our laws protect us. So what happened?
State Usury Laws
First let us talk about state usury laws. Each state can have usury laws limiting how much interest can be charged under different types of financial transactions. Over time many exceptions and loopholes have been created to allow lenders in different forms of loans to charge ridiculously high interest rates. See our other bankruptcy attorney articles about 1,000% interest title loans and payday loans. Somehow these horrible loans are legal though . . . . Below are the various sections of law in California that make up California usury laws. Generally, and very generally, 10% is the highest interest rate under California usury laws depending upon the type of financial transaction.
California Const. Art. XV §1
California Civil Code §§1912-1916.12
California Civil Code §§1916-1 to 1916-3
California Civil Code §§1917-1917.006
California Civil Code §§1917.060-1917.069
California Civil Code §§1917.160-1917.168
California Civil Code §§1917.610-1917.619
California Commercial Code §§9201-9208
California Corporations Code §§25116-25118
California Financial Code §§22000-22064
California Government Code §§5900-5909
Why Are Credit Card Interest Rates So High?
If there is state usury laws limiting the amount of interest that can be charged how can banks charge 29% interest on a credit card debt? The case is Marquette National Bank v. First of Omaha Corporation, 439 U.S. 299 (1978). Somewhere there is a bankruptcy attorney, not this one, cheering for these high interest rates given unmanageable debts drive bankruptcy filings. “The First National Bank of Omaha (Omaha Bank) is a national banking association chartered in Nebraska; it is enrolled in the BankAmericard plan, and solicits for that plan in Minnesota. Omaha Bank charges its Minnesota cardholders interest on their unpaid balances at a rate permitted by Nebraska law, but in excess of that permitted by Minnesota law.” So there you go. First National Bank of Omaha solicited clients in the state of Minnesota but chose not follow Minnesota state law regarding interest rates. First National Bank of Omaha charged higher interest rates according to the law in which they were located, the state of Nebraska. What should be controlling was the issue? Generally speaking the law of the jurisdiction where the individual is located, a state or country, governs their legal rights and not the corporate headquarters or location of the business they are doing business with. Each state has usury laws to protect their state residents within that state and limit interest rates. Each state in the United States has many different laws than other states. Family law is a great example and the 8.5 community property states vs. equitable distribution in the remaining 41.5 states. Why is there a 0.5? Alaska is an opt-in community property state. Save that one for Jeopardy. Back to . First National Bank of Omaha and how they arguably disrespected the state law of Minnesota. SCOTUS provided: “Though the “exportation” of interest rates, such as occurred here, may impair the ability of States to maintain effective usury laws, such impairment has always been implicit in the National Bank Act, and any correction of that situation would have to be achieved legislatively. Pp. 439 U. S. 318-319.” So under the federal National Bank Act what The First National Bank of Omaha did was okay even though it violated the usury laws of Minnesota. There you have it and the rest is history.
But wait. What state allows interest rates of 29%? This is where capitalism and greed took over and now we have more deaths by higher interest rates than before 1978. Certain states repealed or changed their usury laws to allow for high unconscionable interest rates. These states did this to lure the big banks to set up shop in their states to create jobs in these states. Well it worked. So for a few thousand jobs millions of Americans can be charged massive interest rates that we can all agree of too high.
What is the legislative solution SCOTUS mentions in The First National Bank of Omaha? Our United States legislatures, the Senate and House of Representatives, would have to pass legislation to limit interest rates and then that would applicable nationally. Do not hold your breath given our federal legislatures chose to bailout these same banks from the mortgage meltdown. Too big to fail means too big to be honestly regulated.