The debt trap in our midst

The debt trap in our midst

Steps are being taken to address one of Singapore's darkest and most painful open secrets: Of how some people, strapped financially and desperate for help, borrow from moneylenders - only to find themselves walking into a debt trap.

These are registered moneylenders, not loan sharks, that lead to this dark hole.

A new panel will now study issues like capping interest rates and loan amounts and restricting fees charged by moneylenders.

The cases that have emerged and the numbers that surround them paint a troubling picture.

Borrowers who earn less than $30,000 a year can be charged an interest rate of 13 to 20 per cent each month, while those earning more have to negotiate a rate with the lender - not including late payment charges.

And effective interest rates can even amount to as much as 159,000 per cent a year, according to Member of Parliament (MP) Zainal Sapari.

He was among the MPs who called for more measures to regulate the moneylending sector during the Budget debate in March.

Mr Zainal cited the example of a security guard who took out a loan of $1,600 and ended up paying an extra 40 per cent over five weeks in interest alone. In addition, every late payment drew a charge of $800.

People eventually end up paying more than they had borrowed, he said.

"And it doesn't make sense because they are usually those who are already facing financial problems, but their debt just keeps perpetuating."

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