Usury is the charging of interest in excess of that allowed by law. Usury laws are complicated and there are many exceptions to the general rules. Listed below are some of those general rules. Since there are exceptions, and the penalties for violating usury laws are severe, individuals making loans for which there are interest charges should contact an attorney for further guidance.
The California Constitution allows parties to contract for interest on a loan primarily for personal, family or household purposes at a rate not exceeding 10% per year. As with all other percentages we are listing, this percentage is based on the unpaid balance. For example, if a loan of $1,000 is to be paid at the end of one year and there are no payments during the year, the lender could charge $100 (10%) as interest. However, if payments are to be made during the year, the maximum charge allowed could be much less.
In regard to usury, a loan to be used primarily for home improvement or home purchase is not regarded as a loan for personal, family or household purposes. With these loans and for any other loans which are not for personal, family or household purposes, the allowable rate is the higher of 10% or 5% over the amount charged by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on advances to member banks on the 25th day of the month before the loan (if the agreement to loan and the actual lending of the money are in different months, the 25th day of the month before the earlier event is used).
The usury laws do not apply to any real estate broker if the loan is secured by real estate. This applies whether or not he or she is acting as a real estate broker. The limitations also do not apply to most lending institutions such as banks, credit unions, finance companies, pawn brokers, etc. State laws place limitations on some of these loans, but at a higher percentage rate than the usury laws listed above.
Time payment contracts (for example: retail installment contracts and revolving accounts) are not generally regarded as loans. The usury laws normally do not apply to them. There are no limits on finance charges for the purchase of personal, family and household goods or services at this time. Banks take the position that the charge for third party credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.) are not subject to these limitations.
In transactions for the purchase of goods or services which are not for personal, family or household purposes, there are normally no limits to finance charges except those set by the parties.
In the absence of an agreement, the rate of interest upon a loan or forbearance (an agreement not to collect until later for money already owed) of any money or goods or accounts (after demand) is 7% per year.