Deborah Orr, writing in the Guardian, takes a look at the growing respectability and visibility of pawnshops.
I suspect that much of what she has to say applies also to the States. Pawnshops appear to moving into the mainstream of commerce. Locally, there is one large pawnshop that is running a series of TV commercials touting its friendly service and attractive shop adjacent to a major mall.
In theory, bank loans have never been cheaper, with interest rates as close to zero as one could wish. Except that the banks are not lending and people are still borrowing. Since 2003, the number of pawnshops in the country has increased from 500 to 1,300, holding a loan book of around £192m. Britain’s biggest chain of pawnbrokers, H&T, last week announced a 71% leap in half-year profits, up to £14.5m from £8.5m in the first half of 2009. While the majority of customers are seeking loans of less than £100, and more than two-thirds live on a household income of less than £300 a week, industry insiders also report an increase in custom from businesspeople.
And the ghastly truth is that the Telegraph is right. Pawnbrokers are these days a comparatively solid option. If you go to a pawnbroker, then monthly interest payments range from five per cent to 12%, with a loan of £100 over six months attracting an APR of 70% to 200%. If you have nothing to pawn, though, and you instead go to a pay-day loan company – otherwise known as a “legal loan shark” – you could find yourself faced quickly with an APR approaching a stratospheric 3,000%. The appalling truth is that these companies too have proliferated in recent years, offering loans over the internet or via the mobile phone, and filling the gap left as bank loans became harder to secure.
The bright side would be that, when you deal with a pawnshop, you are bargaining over real stuff, not over
bags of air derivatives and other financial instrument of self-immolation.