When he hosted a talk show bearing his name in the 1990s, Montel William had a reputation for being a blunt, no-nonsense kind of guy.
A Navy veteran, he portrayed himself as a man of honor and advocated for the oppressed, especially when it came to issues facing youths. He remains a popular motivational speaker and author, and post-talk show, Williams has lent his name to some admirable causes, including the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, an organization spearheaded by leading pharmaceutical companies that helps financially strapped patients get free or heavily discounted medications.
Less laudable is his TV commercial appearances and Web site endorsements for businesses such as Money Mutual, a Las Vegas-based "payday" loan facilitator that works with more than 60 lenders throughout the country.On its Web site, there is a section called "Why is Montel Williams endorsing this site?" "Montel Williams has endorsed MoneyMutual to provide access to short-term cash loans to people who have no other alternatives," it says. "Montel takes pride in being able to provide people with information to help them live better physically, spiritually, financially and emotionally. Montel understands that people have unexpected and needed expenses ... sometimes difficult to pay due to lack of funds or credit. Rather than bounce a check, or receive late-payment penalties, Montel believes that a short-term loan from MoneyMutual's network of participating lenders can provide the immediate assistance to avoid costly fees." There are of course some who can responsibly take advantage of payday loans and understand the risk and costs associated with them. They can be a helpful financial tool. MoneyMutual, however, avoids stating directly what borrowers can expect to pay in fees and interest. "Since MoneyMutual is not a lender, we are not able to provide or advertise the actual terms, rates, annual percentage rates or fees associated with the loan you may receive," its site says. "The reason for this is that the terms, rates, APRs and fees vary from lender to lender." That could lead to a not-so-pleasant surprise for borrowers. The advocacy group Consumers Union, parent of Consumer Reports, has warned that short-term loans of this type have been found to require as much as $17.50 in fees for every $100 borrowed and the interest rates can amount as much as 911% for a one-week loan. Not all lenders may gouge to that degree, and many states have imposed caps and restrictions. Williams, as someone familiar with the daytime TV demographic, certainly knows that many of those targeted by the MoneyMutual ads are probably not home by choice. Out of work, ill or elderly, they are the folks most likely to be looking for an emergency fix for their finances and the ones most likely to dig even more of a deep, expensive hole. It is all the more more craven given that the inspirational, you-can-do-it message Williams has built a career on is now used to push a fast-money strategy that could do long-term damage if not used responsibly.