Abstract Predatory home mortgage lending has become a central concern for housing research, public policy and community activism in US cities. Regulatory attempts to stop abuses, however, are undermined by claims that ‘predatory’ cannot be defined or distinguished from legitimate subprime lending, and claims that the industry performs a public service by meeting the needs of low-income, high-risk consumers (many of them racially marginalized) who would have been denied credit in previous years. We evaluate these claims in historical-geographical context, drawing on David Harvey's theory of class-monopoly rent to analyse what is new (and what is not) in contemporary financial exploitation. We use a mixed-methods approach to (1) provide econometric measures of subprime racial targeting and disparate impact that cannot be blamed on the supposed deficiencies of borrowers, (2) qualitatively assess the rationale for judging particular subprime practices and lenders as predatory, and (3) trace the connections between local practices and transnational investment networks. The fight against predatory lending cannot succeed, we argue, without a renewed analytical and strategic emphasis on the class dimensions of financial exploitation and racial-geographical discrimination.