<p>ARLINGTON, Va.-NAFCU President and CEO Fred Becker wrote the three NCUA Board members in support of NCUA exercising its right to maintain the 18% usury ceiling. The Federal Credit Union Act provides for a 15% ceiling but gives the agency a certain level of discretion to increase it. In recent history, the board has kept the usury ceiling at 18% but unless it acts before March 8, the rate will revert to 15%. If it is allowed to drop to 15% NCUA may revisit the issue at any time as economic conditions warrant. Reasons NAFCU gave for supporting the 18% ceiling on loans included the American economy's rapid decline since late 2000 and the outlook for interest rates into 2002. "Due to the easing of monetary policy, the weakness in the economy, and the absence of most inflationary pressures, both short-term and long-term interest rates fell over the course of 2001. However, during the first quarter of 2002, the interest rates of several money market instruments have actually increased," Becker wrote. Additionally, NAFCU noted that the Fed was unlikely to make any more rate cuts. "NAFCU believes that the NCUA Board can show that money market interest rates have risen during the six-month period preceding March 8, 2002," Becker wrote. "NAFCU also believes that, due to current market conditions and the increased presence of risk-based lending programs, a reduction of the rate to 15 percent would be detrimental to federal credit unions and would discourage federal credit unions from making higher risk loans, leaving some credit union members with the only alternative of obtaining loans from other lenders at much higher rates."</p>

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