Money Store Mind Report: Fu Backs High-interest Lender

Posted: February 18, 1998

First Union Corp. denied loans to Philadelphia minorities at a higher rate than the rest of the banking industry, according to a study due out today.

First Union also slashed loans to low-income residents, while boosting financial support of the Money Store, which makes loans at higher interest rates than traditional banks, says the study by the Eastern Philadelphia Organizing Project.

The study is the organization's second report in a week to criticize First Union's lending practices.

First Union denied the charges and contended it has increased lending in low-income areas.

Unlike last week's Eastern Philadelphia Organizing Project study, which focused on First Union's business practices in selected poor and minority neighborhoods, the new study found a similar record of discrimination citywide.

The latest report found:

* First Union's 59 percent rejection rate of blacks who applied for home improvement loans was 13 percent higher than the industry average for the city. The 75 percent rejection rate for Latinos was 21 percent higher than the industry average.

* First Union slashed its lending last year by 88 percent in the Philadelphia Action Loan Program, a city-subsidized, low-interest loan program aimed at low- and moderate-income residents.

* First Union helped finance the Money Store, which boosted high-interest loans made in the Philadelphia area by 650 percent between 1995 and 1996.

First Union spokesman Jeep Bryant countered each of the study's findings, saying the bank's denial rates for minorities were ``in line'' with other banks. He declined to comment further without seeing the study.

Any reductions in lending programs have been offset by a 70 percent increase in community reinvestment lending in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods since First Union entered the tri-state region two years ago, Bryant said.

First Union is one of 25 lenders that provide financing to the Money Store, Bryant said.

But EPOP officials said the two studies paint a picture of a bank not interested in doing business with poor and minorities in Philadelphia.

``It speaks to the character of the company,'' said Delores Shaw, an EPOP leader.

Shaw was particularly angered by First Union's support of the Money Store, which makes high-interest loans.

``It may not be against the law to lend money at a 20 percent interest rate, but it's a ripoff,'' Shaw said.

She called First Union's claim that its loan-rejection rate of blacks and Latinos is ``in line'' with the industry average an insult.

``Just because your neighbor is a bigot, does not make it right for you to be a bigot,'' she said.

Last week's study found First Union opened branches in areas where median family incomes were above the city average, while closing branches in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The study focused on the Kensington, Port Richmond, Hunting Park and Olney neighborhoods and found First Union had no bank branches in the eight predominantly minority zip codes in Philadelphia - home to 350,000 residents or 25 percent of the city's population.

EPOP, a nonprofit group of church, school and neighborhood leaders, used the findings in the study to support its call for federal regulators to block First Union's proposed $16 billion takeover of CoreStates Financial Corp.

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