Bottom dwellers eat well in the sea and thrive on the land as money lenders. Another bottom dwelling money lender is coming to Colorado and it will "specialize" in loaning money to the "best of the worst".
The corporation is "Fairlane" and it will be based in Colorado Spings. Fairlane, a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, will start loaning money to new and used Ford car buyers by the end of March or early April.
What's the catch? Ford is already in the car financing business. In 1995, Ford Credit earned $1.4 billion, almost all from good credit risks; Associates First Capital Corp., owned 80 percent by Ford, made $700 million from borrowers. (Associates already owns Amoco Inc.'s credit card business and may soon own the credit card business of Texaco.)
Together that was more than half of Ford Motor Company's total profit for 1995. To put it another way, Ford makes more money as a lender than it does making cars.
So where does Fairlane (named after Henry Ford's estate in Dearborn, Mich.) fit in? Fairlane will be the catfish of the Ford money lending empire. Fairlane will eat the droppings at the bottom of the aquarium. After all, people with bad or poor credit ratings do buy new and used cars. Last year the credit disoriented borrowed $100 billion nationally and owed a lot more than that.
Fairlane will get the rejects from Ford Motor Credit. Fairlane's crop of borrowers will be those with heavy debts who rarely pay on time plus bankrupts used to having cars repossessed.
The trick, of course, is to figure out which bad debtors you can make a profit from. Choosing Colorado as home headquarters from which to make loans here and in other states is part of that trick. Here are a few reasons why:
Colorado's consumer laws smell, and the stink is strongest in consumer credit. Colorado has no vocal, effective consumer group to point out abusive credit practices such as an annual $24 million ripoff from Colorado buyers of credit insurance. Fairlane can export Colorado's 21 percent interest rate, late charges, and other delinquency penalties to other states thanks to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Also, Colorado's laws on repossession which were enacted in 1971 provide no relief for the car debtor. CRS 5-5-103 was intended to require the creditor to choose repossession or collection of the unpaid balance, but not both. But the amount triggering choice, $2100 or less, hasn't been changed in a quarter of a century.
Fairlane will probably tread lightly in the beginning on car repossessions, but getting the car back for resale plus keeping the debt alive will eventually play a major role in Fairlane profits. If Fairlane can massage the debt into CRS 5-12-107, the "commercial credit plan", the debt will be exempt from Colorado's criminal usury law, CRS 18-15-104, so interest charges can easily exceed 45 percent.
Fairlane will face heavy competition from Household Finance Co., (subsidiary of Household International, Inc.) in Colorado and elsewhere. HFC has been feeding at the bottom for some time, and making excellent profits doing it.
In a recent Wall Street Journal news story, "Robert F. Elliott, a Household group executive, candidly describes where his business fits in the lower-market lending hierarchy: Right above payday loan companies; then there are pawn shops, and below them there really isn't anything except the informal market -- the loan shark."
In the first nine months of 1996, according to the Journal, HFC charged off $922.7 million in bad loans, and still made a net income of $375 million, or $3.68 a share.
Colorado Springs is an excellent choice for Fairlane. It is also the home of Medplus Corporation, which the Journal recently described as "an elective care financing corporation which aims to offer credit to anyone who applies."
While competing for the fiscally unfit, HFC and Fairlane should still have one goal in common for the 1997 Colorado legislative session: Deregulation of consumer credit interest rates. Sources tell me HFC will be pushing deregulation. Will HFC also seek to deregulate the statutory impediments consumers face in fighting abusive credit lenders? Of course not!
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Is Gov. Romer in or out of the 1998 U.S. Senate race?
In a recent column by Fred Brown of the Denver Post, Romer had this to say about chairing the Democratic National Committee (DNC): "This job is going to be done absolutely as it ought to be done. If I find anybody trying to say that it ought to be done another way, and if it isn't something that I feel is right, I'm outa there."
In my opinion, Romer will leave the DNC by July 1st, having convinced himself that there is still no one else in the Colorado Democratic party who can capture the senate seat. He made a similar comment about the lack of sure-winner candidates on a Channel 6 show while being questioned by Brown and Peter Blake of the Rocky Mountain News as to why he was in the senate race in the first place.
If Ben Campbell is the Republican candidate, Romer will win. If Campbell is challenged by Scott McInnis, McInnis will win top line at the Republican state assembly and win the primary.
McInnis vs. Romer? If I were a betting man, I'd have to bet on McInnis, but I wouldn't bet the farm.
Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
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