"I just love to solve problems": how people who work at predatory lenders avoid thinking about the pain they inflict

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/10/03/debt-physics.html


All the celebrities who do Capital One commercials can eat a bag of dicks. Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Garner, Samuel Jackson, Taylor Swift, all you fuckers were already rich as hell, so fuck you for advertising predatory lenders so you can buy another house in France.


What’s in your wallet?


Late-stage capitalist America is littered with slimy little traps designed to pick poor people’s pockets and keep them rolling in the f*ckbarrel.

We told ourselves that such families likely didn’t have any better lending options. And for poor, under-banked households, many lending options are far worse than Capital One.

This is a standard crocodile-tears excuse for various predatory bottom-feeder industries. It’s very easy for naive, well-meaning people to buy into it, as the article’s author discovered. And Capital One adds to that by also selecting for bright young problem solvers in their hiring process and then getting them to focus on puzzles, statistics, and abstract experiments rather than the human misery they were causing. It’s diabolical.


As with most propaganda, people buy into it because it contains a grain of truth. Deregulation has allowed the proliferation of lenders that make sub-prime credit cards look like a good option.

Legal loansharking has wormed it way into huge chunks of American life. The cars people drive:

, Education:

Even the credit card terminal at your local store:

And that’s not even going into the shady world of payday loans. There’s an entire ecosystem of credit that is designed around fleecing the most vulnerable. Of course, none of this starts to excuse the pain that lenders like Capital One cause, but it just goes to show how easy it is to justify their shady practices when so much else that shouldn’t exist is out there.


Hmmm. The only connection I have to Capitol One is my “Savor One” card that I use for groceries, gas, and dining out. It’s new enough that I still have an introductory 0% APR, and I pay it off every month.

They are also really good of notifying me of every transaction, and breaking it all out on the invoice; better than Bank of America was when I was using one of their cards.

That said, I’m well aware of what will happen when the honeymoon is over and the 26% APR kicks in and if for any reason I can’t pay it off one month.

It’s like poking an alligator in the face with a pretzel stick. Sooner or later…


As an aside, I’d really like to see their data. That is the sort of psychological/economic experiment that is illegal for academics because of the manifest harm to the subjects (and should be illegal for Capital One). That being said, the same data could be used for more useful research, like to determine what regulations should be put on predatory lenders to keep them from ruining peoples lives


To break is divine

calling elizabeth warren. we could really use some sort of… i dunno… “consumer protection agency” to look into such things and suggest regulations to address them



The double standard between animal welfare requirements/controversy about animal treatment between research and agriculture always struck me as equal parts head-in-the-sand and outright hypocritical; but it’s all that plus super grim when roughly the same gulf in human subject protections exists between psych research and the entities that pretty much own their subject’s precarious economic circumstances…

Seems like every ‘big data’ entity has a department of no-IRB-no-problem research; but no matter how creepy Zuckerberg is, your bank can mess you up markedly harder(assuming the two aren’t working together).

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The very concept of an “under-banked” person or household is pretty much starting the conversation by begging the question.

The implication is obviously that being “under-banked” is basically the financial sector equivalent of being “under-served”; but it conveniently skips the actual demonstration that getting banked is an event that improves welfare. This is certainly within the real of the possible; but far from the realm of the self-evident. Especially given that financial products and services have a nasty habit of being both worse and more expensive on the low end.

If you are floating at least enough liquid capital that you qualify for free checking and don’t need to worry about overdraft fees or interest charges on unpaid credit cards a retail bank’s savings account interest rates are abjectly pitiful but otherwise it can be pretty convenient and without any especially nasty gotchas.

If this isn’t true, though, the question of whether the local sleazy check-cashing joint is actually a worse deal rapidly becomes less clear: their fees are high, but typically disclosed upfront and (relatively) clear. Something neat like Re-ordering transactions to maximize overdraft fees, by contrast, rapidly amounts to a shockingly uncompetitive fee; but an opaque surprise.

Aside from the ones who are just using the phrase for cynical lobbying/marketing purposes; people who actually buy the “unbanked/under-banked” concept should really be forced to spend some time with slum-tier banking products to see if they still feel like this is such a bad thing…


Regular banks definitely have their issues around sleazy practises. We need better consumer protections there (which the GOP, predictably, constantly tries to roll back), as well as a real alternative for the low end of the market.

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Yes, this. As soon as I see them on these commercials, my respect for them plummets to the depths of wells fargo.

My kids see that commercial all the time. I tell them that if someone is inquiring about the contents of the place where you keep your money and financial details, be extremely careful, because they want at it. And nothing more.

Why do you even have it? For the slick reporting they do? You mention the 0%, but you pay it off every month, so what’s the interest rate even matter for you? I don’t understand why you’re even playing their game.

Funny you said that. The exact same thought crossed my mind. Get those experiments, their results, and hand it straight over to President Warren and her staff. No kidding.


Cory, I love you. You’re the reason I got an engineering degree. But goddamn, I’ve been job hunting for three weeks and I am two weeks from selling out to the finance industry. Forgive me.


Fair questions.

In this case, I got it for a trip we had planned, knowing I would be putting around $1,000 on it for the trip alone. It gave me $150 cash back for the first $500 that was added to the balance (iirc).

I’ve kept the card for groceries and dining out – primarily – because it gives more cash back on those purchase than my checking account does. As long as I don’t exceed my monthly budget for those things, and I don’t lose my job in the looming recession/depression, I can pay it off each month.

As for the 0%, it matters in case something comes up that I can’t pay off right away – like what was almost the case when I needed to buy four new tires for our car for $700 early in September, that I wasn’t sure I could afford at that time; and now I’m looking at possibly having to get a new water heater. So my gamble is that I can pay off any balance before the year is up. When the year is up, I may close the card, or just zero it out and stop using it like I have with my BoA card.

As long as I stick to my budget, remain employed, and don’t use it for frivolous shit, it’s working for me.

EVERY credit card company, from what I’ve been able to determine, is horrible. I wouldn’t take a Wells Fargo card under any conditions. This one, right now, is less horrible than others for my specific needs at this time. That could change, I know. But as long as I can stick to the way I use it, if/when they turn on me I’ll pay it off and close the card.

The system is designed to force you to play “their” game, whether it’s Capitol One, or any of the other credit card companies out there. You need to responsibly use credit, to build a credit rating, to be able to do a lot of things that people want to do, all while dodging the pitfalls they put into place. You can choose to not play the game, but it’s not easy. And much like the house when it comes to gambling, if you play the game long enough you will lose. Something will happen to trip you up. I know it. It happened to me decades ago with my first credit card and took a long time to fix. But that’s why I no longer treat it as “free money” like I stupidly did when I was young. I watch everything I put on it, and I have a plan in place to pay it off.


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