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More moneylenders moving into heartland

Just in Toa Payoh town centre, 16 credit firms have set up shop

Published on Jan 6, 2014 7:41 AM
 
A cluster of credit firms has replaced apparel shops and hair salons in Toa Payoh Central. There were just two in the entire estate in 2009. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

LICENSED moneylenders are increasingly targeting heartland areas such as Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio and Tampines, raising concerns among some about the availability of easy credit.

In Toa Payoh, for instance, 16 credit companies have set up shop in the town centre, replacing apparel shops and hair salons, among others. There was just two such licensed moneylenders in the entire estate in 2009.

Five have set up in Tampines and nine in Ang Mo Kio since 2009, spreading out from areas like Chinatown and Beach Road which used to be their main focus.

"Heartland areas have high human traffic," said Mr John Lim, 36, the manager of moneylending company Symbolic at Block 183, Toa Payoh Central. "Eighty per cent of our borrowers are living in HDB flats and are not based in places like Tanjong Pagar."

 
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Background story

Easy credit - with limits

CREDIT firms in Toa Payoh operate behind frosted glass fronts covered with large banners to give customers privacy. The banners pledge easy credit in a jiffy and last Thursday, they were still serving customers past their 8pm closing time.

Although moneylenders can legally offer unsecured loans of four times a borrower's monthly income - if they earn $30,000 to $120,000 a year - most offered conservative sums.

When reporters cited a monthly pay of $3,000, five loan officers offered to lend half that sum, saying low- income earners are a bigger credit risk. But loans could be approved right away.

Documents such as an identity card and SingPass log-in details are needed to retrieve income statements online.

For borrowers earning under $30,000, the rate lenders can charge is legally capped at an effective interest rate of 13 per cent for secured loans and 20 per cent for unsecured loans.

But borrowers need to be careful of other charges, cautioned Mr Lim Cheng Boon of Credit Counselling Singapore. "Debt can escalate in a short period due to late payment charges."

For example, if a borrower opts for weekly repayment instalments and defaults on payment for one month, he will face four late payment charges.

JANICE TAI & MELODY ZACCHEUS