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In law, the crime of charging an unlawfully high rate of interest. In Old English law, the taking of any compensation whatsoever was termed usury. With the expansion of trade in the 13th century, the demand for credit increased, necessitating a modification in the definition of the term. In 1545 England fixed a legal maximum interest, a practice later followed by other Western nations.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on usury, visit Britannica.com.