History

Interest on borrowed funds has existed since ancient times, but interest was not always an acceptable means of conducting business. Religious groups in the Middle Ages—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic—forbade the use of interest, considering it reprehensible. Romans in ancient times also outlawed the practice of charging interest, as did the English government until the thirteenth century. In time, and with increasing demands for credit to support the growth of commerce and trade, a distinction was made between moderate interest rates and excessive interest rates. Chinese and Hindu laws prohibited excessive interest rates, known as usury, and in 1545, England set a maximum rate of interest. Other countries followed England’s practice. In the United States as of 2002, the payment of interest for loans is a widely accepted business practice, with illegal usury reserved for interest rates exceeding the maximums set by law.


Inside History