Money-lending: a blight in the heartlands

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The problem with moneylending in the heartlands is that the lenders are there in such large numbers.

Will “regulating” these monleylenders cut down the numbers? There are 206 licensed moneylenders in Singapore, which is 27 per cent above the ideal number of moneylenders according to the president of the Moneylenders’ Association.

With more and more moneylenders in the heartlands, borrowers are beginning to have the mentality that if one is rejected by a moneylender he or she could easily go to another. Some borrowers also believe they could borrow from one moneylender to pay off another, possibly leaving many heartlanders in long-term debt.

The Independent Singapore spoke to a frequent borrower at Toa Payoh Central. The area, surrounded by HDB flats and small retail stores, is also home to a cluster of licensed moneylenders.

Already in her late 30s, Madonna* said she had borrowed from licensed moneylender many times.

“Sometimes if the queue is too long, I go to a different moneylender. It really depends since I can only do this during my lunch break,” the single mother of two said.

She added that she borrowed money to support her two children whose daily expenses sometimes exceed her monthly wage.

“No doubt the interest is little bit high [but licensed moneylenders], are still safe. You can negotiate, you can talk to them [when she is late for payment].”

Madonna is not alone. In the first half on a weekday, customers can be seen walking in and out of these moneylenders’ shops for fast cash.

In a response to the high number of moneylenders in heartlands, the Law Ministry said it intends to regulate these licensed moneylenders. Law Minister K. Shanmugam reasoned that people would find ways to get money if they wanted to. Before they resorted to illegal means, it may be better to regulate the moneylenders and protect desperate borrowers, he said.

The current status quo requires moneylenders to make the conditions of loan clear to borrowers. Interest rates are also capped for those earning less that S$30,000 annually and borrowing caps for those seeking unsecured loans.

The issue which should be more highlighted is: How many Madonnas are there among us?

Is it the burden of having to support a family? Is it the existence of too many unstable small businesses? Research shows that 12 per cent of Singaporeans earn less than S$1,000 a month. Yet Hui Weng Tat, an associate professor in economics at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, believes that an individual needs a minimum of S$1,400-S$1,500 to make ends meet.

Or is it the need for more cash to support an expensive lifestyle, such as a gambling habit? Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) revealed last year that there are more and more elderly Singaporeans above the age of 50 seeking help due to gambling debt and credit problems in the last three years.

Though there is no official statistics of how many Singaporeans are seeking licensed moneylenders to ease their gambling debt, it may only be a matter of time when fash cash is available underneath their homes. Despite the availability of fast cash, Madonna said many people are still uncomfortable about borrowing money from moneylenders.

Despite the availability of fast cash, Madonna said many people are still uncomfortable about borrowing money from moneylenders.

“I don’t want my colleagues to see me here. Legal money loans got bad perception. They think this one borrow from legal loan must have problem. I don’t want people to know I got financial problem,” she said

As of now, heartlands such as Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio and Tampines have all seen an increase of moneylenders. One licensed money-lending company, Symbolic, claims that 80 per cent of their clients are living in HDB flats.

*Not her real name.