Personal Finance for Economic Justice

Where would Jesus bank?This afternoon a spirited crowd of 150 people showed up at the Bank of America’s (BoA) main branch in Boston to kick off a campaign called “Move Our Money" as part of a national effort to reinstate federal usury laws with a 10% cap on credit card interest rates. The event was organized by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, a coalition of over 50 faith-based and secular organizations (such as churches, synagogues, mosques, unions, and community development corporations), with whom UFE has provided support through our popular economics educational program.

With drums, horns, chants, whoops and hollers, the crowd responded to the call to “Move Our Money” by closing credit card, checking and savings accounts with BoA which refuses to go along with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ usury law capping interest rates at 18%. During the one-hour demonstration, 121 individuals and organizations divested from BoA.

Bank of America, GBIO literature points out, received a $5 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008 despite earning annual profits of $4.1 billion. In 2009, BoA awarded their investment banking employees bonuses totaling $4.4 billion, an average of $400,000 per employee. Yet they refuse to cap their credit card interest rates at 18%.

While GBIO’s Debt to Assets (D2A) financial literacy program teaches folks how mortgages and other loans work, how to avoid predatory lenders, and how to maintain a high credit rating, they have also invited UFE to provide D2A participants with an accessible big picture analysis of the economy. Together we explore how changes in financial regulations, tax laws, and spending decisions have enabled a relatively small group of wealthy investors and financial sector management to accumulate vast wealth, pushing economic inequality to heights not seen since just before the Great Depression.

The relaxing of the rules that permit banks and credit card companies to raise interest rates to what just a few decades ago would have thrown them in jail for usury, is directly addressed by GBIO’s long term campaign: 10 percent is enough! Since Massachusetts has a law that caps interest rates at 18% for banks chartered in the state, the current phase of the campaign is demanding that BoA (based in North Carolina) agree to abide by the Massachusetts cap.

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