Campaign Warns: Don't Borrow Trouble

October 01, 2004

A three-year “Don't Borrow Trouble” campaign was launched earlier this year by the St. Louis Coalition to Promote Reputable Lending. The goal of Don't Borrow Trouble Metro St. Louis is to educate borrowers on how to avoid predatory lending practices. With the support of Freddie Mac and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, local campaigns are active in dozens of cities across the nation.

Don't Borrow Trouble Poster
Eye-catching posters promote the Don't Borrow Trouble Metro St. Louis campaign. Organizers saved money by entering an agreement with a similar campaign in Minnesota to use their promotional materials.  

The St. Louis Coalition to Promote Reputable Lending has been working since 2001 to promote sound lending practices in the metropolitan area. (See Bridges, Autumn 2003.) The coalition has grown to a partnership of nearly 60 private, public and nonprofit organizations. In 2001, the coalition began mapping out a comprehensive, community-wide approach to combat predatory lending.

After research into Don't Borrow Trouble campaigns across the nation, the group wrote a business plan. Information was gathered from the other sites regarding operations, budget, remedies, effectiveness and outcomes. The coalition was not looking to copy other campaigns. Rather, it wanted to adapt the elements that would work best for local conditions. Freddie Mac and the national Don't Borrow Trouble program gave the coalition $30,000 to seed the project.

The first phase of the three-year campaign includes establishing an educational component, a grassroots marketing and media campaign, a toll-free hotline for counseling and legal services, and referrals to partner agencies from hotline calls. The hotline was established hand-in-hand with the grassroots marketing campaign. One of the group's goals was to save each partner unnecessary work and to achieve synergies by clustering activities and roles.

A public relations firm provided advice on reaching consumers. Catholic Charities in St. Louis agreed to take hotline calls through its existing call center. An extensive referral network of coalition members was organized to handle calls generated by the marketing and community outreach efforts.

The coalition signed an agreement with the Minnesota Don't Borrow Trouble Campaign to use its print materials and television public service commercials. This provided the St. Louis campaign with a windfall in budget savings. The coalition had the materials edited for items like telephone numbers and names.

The University of Missouri Outreach and Extension developed a curriculum for a train-the-trainer program for the public speakers' bureau. Twenty-two people have completed the training, and public speakers have explained the program during several major events.

Funding has come from unexpected places, including a nationwide class action settlement fund managed by a group of state attorney generals. The coalition applied through the Missouri and Illinois attorney generals and received a grant of $54,080.

As time goes on, the coalition is evolving. It remains open to new members, watches and listens closely to the local mortgage market, and adapts its approach to change. It is moving from a grassroots stage to a growth state and may soon enter an expansion phase when television and print ads become widespread. The coalition also will address how to reach non-English speaking consumers who may be vulnerable to predators.

Any organization interested in becoming a partner in the coalition should contact Mike Eggleston at (314) 533-0600.

The local web address is

The local toll-free hotline number is 1-866-299-2899.

The national web site is

Funding for Don't Borrow Trouble

Metro St. Louis

St. Louis Affordable Housing Trust Fund $57,500
Consumer Protection and Education Fund $54,080
Freddie Mac $30,000
First Bank $5,000
St. Louis Association of Realtors $5,000
U.S. Bank $750
Commerce Bank $250

Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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