Usury Definition

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Editorial Team

Updated on March 09, 2023

Usury is the practice of charging high or prohibitive interest rates by unscrupulous lenders to primarily poor borrowers.

It is considered part of predatory lending and is illegal in most societies.

Origin of Usury

The roots of usury can be traced back to approximately four thousand years, when economic systems began to be developed across various societies around the world.

While borrowing and lending were considered essential economic functions, the practice of charging high or socially unacceptable interest rates for an inequitable transaction was banned.

Religious views on Usury

Most religions in the world have injunctions against usury.

The Bible discusses usury as a sin of avarice and commends the just man "who does not put out his money at interest."

Judaism has laws against charging interest to followers of the Jewish faith.

Islam prohibits Riba - charged interest on loans and investments.

Ancient Hindu societies had laws banning charging of high interest rates by high castes and Buddhist religious tales criticize those who profit off the misery of others.

Usury Example

In modern times, institutions like the Federal Reserve and governments regulate interest rates.

For example, the former influences overall rates by setting a federal funds rate at which banks and other lending institutions may borrow from it.

State legislators enact statutes that set interest rate caps for various kinds of loans and penalize unethical lenders.

For example, the median rate cap for a $500, six-month installment loan in 45 states and the District of Columbia was 38.5% in 2020.

Usury Laws

Laws against usury are meant to protect consumers from predatory lenders, defined by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as those who impose "unfair and abusive loan terms on borrowers."

They are also generally used in the context of "payday loans" which are generally short-term and unsecured loans with high interest rates.

Usury FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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