Thursday, March 02, 2017

How much is that doggy in the window? Read the fine print and find out.

The best place to get a puppy is, of course, a shelter. Or a breeder. But sometimes people go to pet stores. Which is what Californian Dawn Sabins did when she wanted a new dog. The golden that she purchased set her back $2,400 – more than she’d planned on, but what price doggy love?

The odd part came a few weeks later, when she and her husband were going over their credit reports and saw a $5,800 charge from a company they’d never heard of.

The Sabins had bought their new dog, Tucker, with financing offered at the pet store through a company called Wags Lending, which assigned the contract to an Oceanside, California-based firm that collects on consumer debt. But when Dawn tracked down a customer service rep at that firm, Monterey Financial Services Inc., she learned she didn’t own the dog after all. (Source: Bloomberg)

Turns out, Dawn hadn’t actually bought the dog; she was leasing it. And, failing to read the fine print, she was on the hook for nearly three years worth of monthly payments to the tune of $165.06. After 34 months, she had the option to buy the dog for two months rent. If she skipped a payment, the repo dog catcher could come and repossess it. And if the pooch pooched out on the family, by, say, catching the car it was chasing, they were responsible “for an early repayment charge.”

If they saw the lease through to the end, they would have paid the equivalent of more than 70 percent in annualized interest—nearly twice what most credit card lenders charge.

On its own, this would have been plenty bad, but the Sabins’ dog turned out to be too much for them. So Dawn did what any modern consumer would do. After selling the dog, she lodged her complaints online, where she found plenty of company among others who, without quite understanding what they were getting into, had gotten sucked into rent-a-pup or rent-a-kitty schemes.

I know, I know.

Caveat emptor, don’t buy anything other than a house or a car that you can’t really afford to pay for outright, and make sure to read any contract before you sign on the dotted line.

Still, I feel bad for those who got sucked in by Wags Lending, the brainchild of Dusty Wunderlich. (I will note that Dusty and Wunderlich - translation: whimsical – both make pretty good pet names.) Wunderlich is CEO of Bristlecone Holdings, operator of Wags, wearer of ostrich cowboy boots, fan of Ayn Rand, and someone dedicated to “improving the lives of subprime borrowers” all the time “living in a Postmodern culture while maintaining my old American West roots and Christian values.”

Sounds more Ayn Rand than Christian. But definitely postmodern.

Anway, Bristlecone – and I suspect many of his clientele feel like they’ve swallowed one, after dealing with one of his businesses – isn’t just into pet lending. He writes:

…leases against furniture, wedding dresses, hearing aids, and custom auto rims. In a little more than three years, his company has originated 66,000 leases for just over $100 million. He once worked out a plan to lease cattle to dairy farmers, though plummeting commodity prices soured the economics. (He got far enough to decide that if a cow gave birth during the terms of the lease, the lessee got to keep the calf.) In another idea that never reached the market, he explored lease financing for funerals.

“We like niches where we’re dealing with emotional borrowers,” Wunderlich said.

Emotional borrowers who get themselves on the hook for outlandish fees so that they can get custom auto rims (what’s wrong with plastic?) or fancy breed dogs (what’s wrong with shelter mutt?)?

How non-wonderful, and non-wunderlich, to make your living preying on emotional borrowers, most of whom can’t afford what they’re borrowing for.

Anyway, the full article is definitely worth a full read, if only to remind you about the abysmal level of financial literacy that’s alive and well across this great land of ours. Apparently no one learned anything from the mortgage crisis. And, hey, a dog is a lot lower-cost an item to get your credit and your life in a tangle over than is a house.

Of course, I can sympathize with someone who wants a dog.

It’s just that, if you’re a bit down on your cash, you really do need to go beyond asking how much is that doggy in the window. You need to take out your calculator (there’s probably one on your fancy smartphone) and figure out just what that doggy’s going to cost you over the life of the contract. And then you can take this bit of advice: forget Wags Lending and get thee to an animal shelter.

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