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As mankind's oldest financial institution, pawnbroking carries on a tradition with a rich history. Pawnbroking can be traced back at least 3,000 years to ancient China, and has been found in the earliest written histories of Greek and Roman civilizations.

During the Middle Ages, certain usury laws imposed by the Church prohibited the charging of interest on loans, thus limiting pawnbroking to people who had religious beliefs outside of the Church. Out of economic necessity, and because of problems in the banking system, pawnshops made a resurgence in later years. The House of The Lombards operated pawnshops throughout Europe. They even counted royalty, such as King Edward III of England, among their clientele during the 14th century. The symbol of the Lombards' operations were the three gold balls that still remain the trademark of pawnshops.

Pawnbrokers, also known as collateral loan brokers, make loans based purely on the intrinsic value of the collateral. Checking the customer's credit history is not necessary because only the value of the item being pawned is considered. If the loan, or at least the interest, is not paid off during the specified term (usually three or four months), the item is forfeited and may be resold by the broker.

A typical transaction begins with a potential borrower coming into a pawnshop with the item he or she wants to pledge. The pawnbroker then determines how much to loan the patron for the item. Loans are paid out at a rate of about one-third to one-half of the price the broker can expect to receive for the sale of a good during the worst of times. This assures that a profit will be made.

Pawning has long been a source of capital for people in times of need, as well as a means of financing business ventures.

Today, statutory regulations of banking and finance are based on the legal foundation established by pawnbrokers. Many of the first leaders in the banking industry had roots in pawnbroking. As was the case 3,000 years ago, pawnshops continue to be a source of convenient credit for individuals in need of a short-term loan.

Formerly a male dominated industry, today women are also making their mark as pawnbrokers. Pawnshop clientele are represented in a range of ages (must be 18 or older), races and genders with male and female customers being about equal. As the public becomes more educated about the types of services pawnbrokers provide, pawnshops are serving a wider and more diverse clientele. All items received by a pawnbroker must to be listed with the city and/or state's police department, therefore reducing the chance of a consumer receiving stolen property.

The pawn industry is one of the most regulated in the country. Most regulation has been initiated, sponsored and supported by pawnbrokers. Regulatory agencies include the Office of Consumer Credit and Law Enforcement on a local and national level.

Pawnbrokers have state, regional and national industry associations which work at self-policing the industry. In the case of public companies, the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission oversee their operations.
Pawnshops serve as a source of credit to millions of Americans, providing average small secured loans ($50 to $100) for a brief time period (two to four months).

Pawnbrokers lend money on items of value ranging from gold and diamond jewelry to musical instruments, televisions, tools, household items, etc.. These items maintain their value over a reasonable period of time and are easy to store, especially jewelry. All customers provide collateral, eliminating the need to distinguish high risk from low risk borrowers.

Typically, loans are small averaging between $70 and $100, although they can be as small as $20 or as high as several thousand dollars depending on the value of the collateral. Contracts vary from state to state, but the average loan period is 90 days. Generally, interest rates will vary with the amount of the loan.

The process is much the same as any other lending institution, with the primary difference being the size of the loan, the collateral and the holding of the merchandise until the interest or the loan has been repaid.

A pawnbroker makes loans on personal property left as collateral. The property can be redeemed when the loan plus interest is repaid.

The interest rates for pawnshops, which may be regulated by state or local laws, may range from 5% to 6% a month. Loans can usually be renewed, but only if the interest for the original period has been paid.

Pawnbrokers will accept a variety of personal property as collateral, usually items that are small or of modest value (jewelry, clocks, computers, camcorders, silverware, etc.) Brokers won't lend more money than they think they can get if the pledged item is not redeemed and has to be sold.

When a pledged item is not redeemed, brokers are required to notify pawners that the loan period has expired and to give them a final opportunity to redeem their personal property before the broker has the right to sell the item. In some jurisdictions, brokers may keep all the money received from the sale of the unredeemed pledge. In other cases, the broker may only keep the original loan and any interest due, but must turn any excess over to the pawner.

In many states, pawnbrokers are required by law to file with the local police a daily list of items that have been pledged. They must report and give a description of the object along with serial number and other points of identification.

This gives the police an opportunity to check these pledge items against any list of reported stolen items. In somebody buys a stolen item from a pawnbroker, it must be returned, and the broker must refund the purchase price to the customer.

Today's pawnbroker is upgrading everything from the interior and exterior of his or her shop location, employee presentation, customer service, signage, marketing and the merchandising approach.

Pawnbrokers focus on providing exceptional customer service and are very active in the community, both politically, and in local charities. Pawnshops today range from a single or multi-store operation to publicly held company chains. The atmosphere at a pawnshop is very much like an ordinary retail store---just visit one to see for yourself.