Borrowing from a loan shark can have a huge impact on your financial wellbeing. Here’s how you can avoid these unscrupulous lenders.
It’s a situation that sounds all too familiar to many Australians: you need cash urgently to pay an unexpected bill, but your bad credit history means it’s impossible to get a loan from a mainstream lender. So when a loan shark comes along and agrees to give you fast and easy access to the money you need, you’re ready to grab this lifeline with both hands.
But while borrowing from a loan shark might seem like the perfect short-term solution, it can soon lead to long-term financial pain. Finance from loan sharks comes with some pretty big strings attached, including high interest rates and high fees, so it’s crucial for your financial health that you avoid these lenders at all costs.
What is a loan shark?
A loan shark is an illegal lender. When someone has a bad credit history and doesn’t qualify for financing from a reputable bank or lender, they may turn to an unlicensed lender for help. But while the loan a shark offers might seem okay on the surface, it will usually come with an exorbitant interest rate and hidden fees that can end up costing you a whole lot of money.
The term “shark” refers to the predatory nature of these types of lenders, who prey on vulnerable borrowers when they are desperate for money but can’t get financing from a legitimate lender. Low-income families, people on Centrelink and people with limited education often make prime targets for loan sharks.
A 2011 study conducted by the Centre for Social Impact at the University of NSW found that more than 15% of Australian adults have limited or no access to basic financial services such as a transaction account, a credit card or insurance. It’s this sort of exclusion from mainstream financial services that makes them easy prey for loan sharks.
While most people might expect to find a loan shark’s office down a dark alley in a seedy part of town, in the modern world many of these unscrupulous lenders ply their trade on the Internet.
How can you tell a loan shark from a legit lender?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a lender is completely above board or not, especially when applying for a loan online. So what sets a loan shark apart from a legitimate lender? There are a few key telltale signs to keep an eye out for.
A legitimate lender will be properly licensed to offer credit under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009, which also requires those lenders to comply with responsible lending requirements. When considering a loan from a lender, check to see whether the lender is accredited to provide finance by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). A loan shark will not be, so if they can’t or won’t show you a credit licence then you should look elsewhere.
Loans from loan sharks are also typically characterised by a few key features. One of these is much more relaxed borrowing criteria than the restrictions imposed by major lenders, with finance for borrowers with bad credit a big selling point. Another is fast and easy access to funds, with applications typically processed online and money available within a very short space of time, sometimes as little as an hour. To a desperate borrower with bad credit and an urgent need for cash, these features can make financing from a loan shark seem like an attractive deal.
What happens if you borrow from a loan shark?
If you borrow from a loan shark, you should expect severe financial consequences. While in the short-term you’ll enjoy the relief of getting the money you need, it won’t take long for the other foot to drop.
The interest repayments on the amount you borrow will soon kick in and start to have an impact on your finances. By taking advantage of desperate borrowers, loan sharks can impose high interest rates on people that have little choice but to accept the rate on offer.
Fees and charges pose another major problem. Some lenders will charge a flat fee equal to a certain percentage of the amount you borrow, in some cases up to 20%, plus slug you with high fees if you don’t keep pace with the repayment schedule outlined in your contract. If you don’t pay the loan off in time, you could be charged a fee for every day the account is overdue. Monthly account-keeping fees and a range of other hidden charges may also apply, all of which can lead you deeper and deeper into debt.
And being in debt to a loan shark is not a good place to be. From repossessing your personal items to violence and intimidation, loan sharks may resort to all manner of illegal methods to recoup any money you owe.
What other financial help is available?
If you need help with your finances, you don’t need to turn to a loan shark to get the assistance you need. A good place to start is the National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007), a free nationwide hotline to help people struggling with debt access expert advice.
They will put you in touch with a free financial counselling service in your state. Financial counsellors offer independent and confidential advice on ways you can improve your financial situation and bring your debt under control. They can help you negotiate new repayment arrangements with your creditors as well as work out a budget to organise your finances.
You can also search for a financial counsellor near you on ASIC’s MoneySmart website.