Retirees Beware: Pension Advance FraudSeptember 19, 2013
A relatively new phenomenon is taking place, not only in Missouri but across the country, known as pension advances. Tuesday, State Treasurer Clint Zweifel issued a warning to Missourians about this practice. The Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri (PSRS/PEERS) want to make sure you are aware of the scam. Below is a short Q&A to help inform you on the topic.
Question: What are Pension Advances?
Answer: In essence, pension advances are loans against defined benefit pensions, such as military or public sector (government) pensions. These loans offer retirees a chance to "convert tomorrow's pension checks into today's hard cash." However, many of the true costs of these advances are hidden from borrowers, such as the true interest rates, which typically range from 27% to 106%. This information is not disclosed in the advertisements or in the loan contracts themselves. Like any other high-interest predatory loan, pension advances can lead to a cycle of indebtedness that is impossible to escape. Other types of predatory loans include title loans, payday loans and certain types of credit cards.
According to The New York Times, the companies offering these loans are getting their payments in a variety of ways. One is by encouraging the retiree to set up a separate bank account, controlled by the company, into which the retiree's pension payments are deposited. Another condition of this type of predatory loan may be to require borrowers to take out a life insurance policy naming the lender as the sole beneficiary.
(A link to the full story issued April 27, 2013 in The New York Times can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/business/economy/pension-loans-drive-retirees-into-more-debt.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 )
Question: As a PSRS/PEERS retiree, am I vulnerable?
Answer: Unfortunately, you are not immune from being targeted by companies who deal in predatory loans and pension advances. As a retiree, you can get a loan based solely on your retirement benefit without PSRS/PEERS being made aware of the transaction. It is critical that you understand the terms of any loan you take out.
Question: As a PSRS/PEERS retiree, how am I protected?
Answer: First, you are protected by Missouri law which prohibits the assignment of a retirement benefit to someone other than yourself, including people or companies.
In addition, PSRS/PEERS retirement benefits may be protected from creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding. PSRS and PEERS are "tax-qualified" public pension plans under the Internal Revenue Code. That means PSRS/PEERS benefits may be exempt from creditor attachment under the United States Bankruptcy Code. However, you should consult with a bankruptcy attorney if you are considering filing for bankruptcy protection. Filing for bankruptcy may not relieve you from existing obligations to creditors.
Question: What should I do if I am already in a pension advance loan arrangement?
Answer: Contact the Missouri Attorney General's office for help and to file a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Treasurer Zweifel is asking Missourians to let him know if they have been approached by businesses promoting this type of offer. To do this, go to treasurer.mo.gov and click on the Pension Advance Portal.
Missouri Attorney General's office
(573) 751-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Consumer Finance Protection Bureau
(855) 411-CFPB (2372) or http://www.consumerfinance.gov/contact-us/