General. The Company was incorporated under the laws of South Carolina on February 22, 1973 and is now one of the nation's largest small-loan consumer finance companies, offering short-term small installment loans, medium-term larger installment loans, related credit insurance and ancillary products and services to individuals. The Company offers standardized installment loans generally between $300 and $4,000, with the average loan being $1,482. The Company operates 1,193 branches in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin as of March 31, 2019. The Company generally serves individuals with limited access to other sources of consumer credit such as banks, credit unions, other consumer finance businesses and credit card lenders. The Company also offers income tax return preparation services to its loan customers and other individuals.
The small-loan consumer finance industry is a highly fragmented segment of the consumer lending industry. Small-loan consumer finance companies generally make loans to individuals of less than $2,000 with maturities of less than 18 months. These companies approve loans on the basis of the personal creditworthiness of their customers and maintain close contact with borrowers to encourage the repayment or, when appropriate to meet the borrower's needs, the refinancing of loans. By contrast, commercial banks, credit unions and other consumer finance businesses typically make loans of more than $5,000 with maturities of greater than one year. Those financial institutions generally approve consumer loans on the security of qualifying personal property pledged as collateral or impose more stringent credit requirements than those of small-loan consumer finance companies. As a result of their higher credit standards and specific collateral requirements, commercial banks, savings and loans and other consumer finance businesses typically charge lower interest rates and fees and experience lower delinquency and charge-off rates than do small-loan consumer finance companies. Small-loan consumer finance companies generally charge higher interest rates and fees to compensate for the greater risk of delinquencies and charge-offs and increased loan administration and collection costs.
The majority of the participants in the industry are independent operators with generally less than 100 branches. We believe that competition between small-loan consumer finance companies occurs primarily on the basis of the strength of customer relationships, customer service and reputation in the local community rather than pricing, as participants in this industry generally charge interest rates and fees at, or close to, the maximum permitted by applicable state laws. We believe that our relatively large size affords us a competitive advantage over smaller companies by increasing our access to, and reducing our cost of, capital.