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Americans for Fairness in Lending (AFFIL)

Self Description

October 2008: "Americans for Fairness in Lending (AFFIL) exists to raise awareness of abusive credit and lending practices and to call for re-regulation of the industry. AFFIL is the collaborative effort of numerous partner and ally organizations, each contributing their expertise to AFFIL and the public through AFFIL activities. As a group, we are committed to using a unified and consistent national message to raise the volume of our collective outrage and to shine a spotlight on predatory and unfair lending practices. AFFIL intends to generate a groundswell of public support for regulation of the lending industry to ensure fairness in lending for all Americans.


AFFIL was born out of the frustration of consumer advocates who were winning small battles but losing the bigger war waged against Americans by the lending industry. Despite a thriving economy in the last decade, a growing number of families are overwhelmed by credit problems and soaring debt burdens. In 2004, a group of consumer advocates, economists, and policy makers began discussing how to reverse these trends. They determined that what was needed was a public awareness campaign that could move forward the advocacy, educational, legal, and policy work already being done to protect consumers.

The National Consumer Law Center organized a conference, assisted by ACORN, the Center for Responsible Lending, and the Consumer Federation of America. The conference, Changing Attitudes, Reforming Policy in the Credit Marketplace, took place in Cleveland, Ohio at Cleveland State University, on October, 7-8, 2004. Over 100 prominent advocates, experts, and community organizers attended, ranging from the Rainbow Push Coalition and LA Chinatown Service Center to AARP. The conference allowed participants to exchange information, watch presentations by two ad firms, and discuss the most effective strategies for moving forward. After the conference, NCLC hired Cathy Lesser Mansfield, a law professor at Drake University Law School, to coordinate the next phase of the campaign on a part-time basis. Based on their superior presentation at the Cleveland conference, Lesser Mansfield began working with Benenson Janson, an LA-based ad firm, on ads to raise public awareness about lending industry abuses.

As an essential first step, AFFIL representatives met with key non-profit organizations to develop the vision for the message campaign. Many of these organizations formally become AFFIL partners. The partners remain the crucial force behind the campaign, providing the needed vision and expertise. AFFIL also maintained contact with locally-focused groups from the formative Cleveland conference, many of whom became the first AFFIL allies.

In March 2006, AFFIL learned about the documentary Maxed Out directed by James Scurlock which addresses debt and lending industry abuses in America. AFFIL’s new part-time Executive Director, Kirsten Keefe, attended the premiere of Maxed Out in Austin, Texas and introduced Scurlock to AFFIL. Following the premiere, the Ford Foundation hosted a meeting between AFFIL and Scurlock, and AFFIL entered into a formal collaboration with Scurlock. AFFIL planned to work with the release of both the film and Scurlock’s book of the same title.

With the help of the DC-based research firm Beldon Russonello & Stewart, AFFIL tested ad comps produced by Benenson Janson on four focus groups in Chicago on June 12 and 13, 2006. The aim of the focus groups was to test the ad campaigns, individual ads, tag lines, and the concept of AFFIL. The groups clearly identified the “American Tragedies” campaign as the most effective and powerful, and chose the “Family In the Woods” as their favorite ad. In response to these findings and further input from the AFFIL partners, Benenson Janson went forward and began producing ads during the fall of 2006.

In the summer and fall of 2006, AFFIL began to solidify as its own organization. AFFIL was incorporated in the state of Massachusetts on August 31, 2006, and filed for 501(c)(3) tax status soon thereafter. In July of 2006, Sarah Byrnes was hired to be the full-time Campaign Manager and work out of NCLC’s Boston office. Kirsten Keefe stayed on as AFFIL’s part-time ED, working out of Albany, New York. The Board of Directors, chaired by Cathy Lesser Mansfield, met via teleconference early in the fall, and in person in November of 2006 in Miami, Florida. The Board began oversight of AFFIL’s finances and organizational structure, leaving the vision and mission of the campaign to the partners.

During the fall of 2006, the partners met three times in Washington DC, twice at AARP and once at the National Council of La Raza. At these meetings, they jointly wrote AFFIL’s Six Principles of Fairness in Lending. In December, AFFIL contracted with Bari George of By George and Company to work as AFFIL’s communications consultant. In January, with George’s assistance, AFFIL assembled a team of media specialists and writers. The web committee and web architect continued to work on web development. AFFIL staff worked closely with Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Entertainment, Simon and Schuster, and James Scurlock to coordinate events around the impending release of Maxed Out the book and the movie. AFFIL set March 6, 2007 as its official launch date."

Third-Party Descriptions

October 2008: '“They get people who they know are in trouble, they know are desperate, and they aggressively market a product to them which is not in their best interest,” said Jim Campen, executive director of the Americans for Fairness in Lending, an advocacy group that fights abusive credit and lending practices. “It’s the wrong product at the wrong time.”'


RoleNameTypeLast Updated
Organization Head/Leader (past or present) Prof. Jim Campen Person Oct 24, 2008

Articles and Resources

Date Resource Read it at:
Mar 02, 2009 Instant tax 'refunds' come under fire: States crack down on high-interest tax loans.

QUOTE: For years, consumer advocacy groups have warned against so-called "instant" or "same-day" [tax] refunds. The reason: these refunds are actually bank loans, and they often bring exorbitant fees.

Christian Science Monitor
Oct 22, 2008 Banks Mine Data and Pitch to Troubled Borrowers

QUOTE: Singling out even struggling American consumers like Ms. Jerez is one of the overlooked causes of the debt boom and the resulting crisis, which threatens to choke the global economy....banks, credit card issuers and mortgage brokers, who fiercely compete to find untapped customers — even those who would normally have trouble qualifying for the credit they were being pitched.

New York Times