Sorry if you had anyone else winning in your Most Hideous Career After Leaving the Obama Administration bracket, because Tim Geithner just blew the competition out the water. The Washington Post has a detailed and devastating report, published Sunday evening, about the predatory lending activities of Mariner Finance, a company “owned and managed by a $11.2 billion private equity fund controlled by Warburg Pincus,” of which Geithner is president. Cool job, Tim!
So what does Mariner Finance do? It mails checks to poor people, hoping they’ll cash them without reading the fine print—which reveal sky-high interest rates and a clause forcing the lendee to pay the company’s legal fees should it be forced to sue them for their debts. It’s a neat little scam that works in tandem with the other revolting ways America extracts money from its poor. Per the Post:
Barbara Williams, 72, a retired school custodian from Prince William County, in Northern Virginia, said she cashed a Mariner loan check for $2,539 because “I wanted to get my teeth fixed. And I wanted to pay my hospital bills.”
She’d been in the hospital with three mini-strokes and pneumonia, she said. Within a few months, Mariner suggested she borrow another $500, and she did. She paid more than $350 for fees and insurance on the loan, according to the loan documents. The interest rate was 30 percent.
“It was kind of like I was in a trance,” she said of her decision to borrow from Mariner. She paid back some of the money but then fell behind, and Mariner sued. The company won court judgment against her in April for $3,852, including $632 in fees for Mariner’s attorney.
These loans are very similar to payday loans but aren’t as closely regulated, according to the National Consumer Law Center. As the paper explains, “consumer installment” lenders “offer slightly larger loans—from about $1,000 to more than $25,000—for longer periods of time.” They’re like payday loans, but for bigger amounts and a name that doesn’t immediately reveal how predatory they are.
Is Geithner’s firm ashamed of its investment in and management of this vile business? Of course not. Warburg Pincus told the Post that “Mariner Finance delivers a valuable service to hundreds of thousands of Americans who have limited access to consumer credit.” Worse still, Mariner representatives described the company as fulfilling a “social need.”
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This is always what those in favor of looser regulations around payday and other predatory lenders say, from the advocacy groups that represent them to Wall Street-friendly Democratic senators like Mark Warner. This Orwellian spin sometimes makes it into the laws themselves: An NCLC report on “consumer installment loans” from last year noted that “Mississippi legislators enacted the misleadingly named ‘Mississippi Credit Availability Act’ that allows an APR of 305% for a $500 loan repayable over six months.” See, credit is always available if you can stomach a 305% interest rate! This is their go-to move. Don’t fall for it.
Just ask former Mariner Finance employees. The Post interviewed several, including one branch manager who said he felt “embarrassed” by what he did there: “Were there a few loans that actually helped people? Yes. Were 80 percent of them predatory? Probably.”
As David Dayen wrote for Salon back in 2014, Geithner’s legacy as an enthusiastic cog in the Wall Street machine was already beyond established, including by his time in the Obama administration:
At every turn on housing—on mass refinancing, on principal reduction, on leverage for homeowners in the bankruptcy process, on forcing banks to write down mortgages, on a modern-day HOLC—the evidence points to Tim Geithner preferring whatever option put the least pressure on banks, rather than actually helping ordinary people. He made far more excuses to do nothing than any effort to make a difference. In fact, the programs were never meant to help homeowners, designed only to “foam the runway” for the banks, to spread out foreclosures and allow banks to absorb them. Homeowners are the foam being crushed by a jumbo jet in that analogy, squeezed for as many payments as possible before ultimately losing their home. And I don’t have to just focus on housing; this is indicative of Geithner’s worldview, which sees protecting the financial system at all costs as the only thing that matters.
In a just world, Geithner would be shamed out of society and forced to beg for scraps after a story like this was published. Instead, he’ll keep making millions—while people like Barbara Williams are forced to take out predatory loans to pay their hospital bills—even after being appointed by a Democratic administration that the right wing insisted was teetering on the precipice of Maoism. What I’m saying is: America Is Already Great.