Credit and Lending – Ancient History to Today
Most of the financial tools that we take for granted were either uncommon or nonexistent just a few decades ago. Some of the most interesting and game-changing credit innovations in history:
- The Roman Empire allowed loans with interest, but they were strictly controlled by law.
- In Medieval Europe, charging any interest on loans at all was considered usury. Interest charges have been illegal in many parts of the world at various points in history, including in China, most of the Middle East and ancient Greece.
- The first law in Europe that allowed interest on loans was 1545’s “An Act Against Usury;” the highest interest rate allowed was 8 percent. This law was invalidated in 1660 by a new law that capped interest rates at 6 percent.
- In the 1860s, stores gave customers numbered credit coins that could be used like a store credit card is today. Early ones were made out of celluloid; later models were crafted from copper or brass.
- Until the 1960s, some stores offered charge tags for credit accounts. The cards stored in cases embossed with the client’s name and address. Tucked in the back was a piece of card stock with the customer’s signature. Instead of being stored in a client’s wallet, they were kept on-file in the store.
- Muslim religious laws do not allow charging interest, because they believe that this can allow debt to become servitude. As a result, most Muslims, who make up 24% of the world’ population, use cash or debit cards exclusively. But, to offer options to this market, some banks have begun offering Sharia-compliant credit cards that charge a monthly service fee in lieu of interest on purchases.
- The first credit card, The Diner’s Club, was inspired by a businessman’s embarrassing lapse; he was out at dinner with associates and discovered he’d left all his cash at home. The first charge on the card was made in 1950 at Major’s Cabin Grill, a restaurant next to the Empire State Building.
- Old, expired credit cards are a hot collectible. An old American Express card can fetch $100 or more. One belonging to Elvis Presley sold for $41,000 at auction. There is even a collectors organization for credit device fans, The American Credit Card Collectors Society.
- More and more companies are experimenting with making your mobile phone a mobile wallet. Smartphone apps like MyCheck, Dash and TabbedOut allow diners to specify a credit card of choice and pay for meals in a couple of clicks.
- In under-banked areas of Kenya, people began innovating their own DIY mobile payments in the form of cell phone minutes. There are even vendors that will extend credit in this manner, charging fees instead of interest to adhere to local law.