The sight of a Jurong East moneylender crowded with more than 50 foreign maids on recent Sundays has stirred public concern that foreign workers in Singapore may have developed bad financial habits such as overspending or borrowing.
Shin Min Daily News reported on April 8 that there were about 20 foreign women in the moneylender’s office, while a further 30 were lined up along the corridor. Most were believed to be foreign domestic helpers in Singapore.
Other shop owners told the newspaper that the money lender opened at 11am but people starting to queue up as early at 9am. It was estimated that around 100 maids visit the office on Sundays, and they brought along lunchboxes and picnicked in nearby streets.
A 50-year-old housewife surnamed Ng said it was a worrying scene as borrowing should not be encouraged. When debtors fail to settle loans, they might resolve to illegal activity, which could create social problems.
A 39-year-old Filipina who has worked in Singapore for four years said her family had had an emergency and it was her first-time visiting a moneylender. She planned to take out a loan for S$1,000 and pay it off via instalments.
Another Filipina, 35, was accompanying a friend whose family needed to make a one-off payment to refurbish their home. The amount was substantial, so was compelled to take out a loan to help her family.
Staff at the office declined to comment, however, saying they were too busy.
Peter Tan, president of the Moneylender’s Association of Singapore, said moneylenders could only charge a maximum monthly interest of 4%, while the one-off service charge could not exceed 10%.
He said it was understandable that maids would opt to seek a loan if they experienced temporary financial difficulty as they would have to pay school fees for children, costs for home refurbishing or an emergency in the family. It was not a worry provided that they plan ahead and settle their debt before the due date.