Trapped for cash: Deeper in debt

Payday lenders put many borrowers in a vicious cycle

Published: Sunday, Nov. 13 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Patty Bailey holds dozens of bounced-check notices from her bank. She could not afford to pay off the loans she obtained from payday loan centers.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

Each payday, Patty Bailey of Kearns faced a long line of lenders whose two-week loans to her were due — along with interest at annual rates ranging from 400 percent to 980 percent.

Bailey could not afford to pay off those "payday loans." So, with cash from her paycheck, she visited lenders to buy more time. For example, she would pay, according to her records, $26 to Cash America to extend a $200 loan for another two weeks for an interest rate that comes to 469 percent annually.

Then she would pay $30.77 to Payday Murray to renew a different $150 loan also for two weeks at 534 percent annually. Then she would pay $100 to the Cash Store also to "roll over" another $500 loan for two weeks at an annual percentage rate of 521 percent. She was paying interest that was twice the 250 percent charged by the 1960s Mafia.

After buying time with such lenders, Bailey would find she had little left to live on, so she would sometimes take out yet another payday loan. "At one point, I had seven to nine payday loans at the same time," Bailey said.

It all led her to bankruptcy after months of harassment from collectors, a mountain of bounced-check fees, small-claims lawsuits, wage garnishment, stress-induced sickness and loss of her job.

Bailey is not alone.

Credit counselors, church groups and bankruptcy lawyers say increasing numbers of Utahns are mired in a payday loan system they say is designed to trap and financially drain the desperate or unsophisticated. But lenders, regulators and some lawmakers say it provides needed emergency help to those without credit.

Few states have laws that are friendlier to the payday loan industry than Utah. It is among 39 states that explicitly allow such loans. It is among 10 that have no cap on interest rates or fees. It is among two with no legal maximum amounts for such loans. Utah also has among the longest time allowed to "roll over" loans with continuing high interest: 12 weeks. Most states ban rollovers.

Amid such friendly laws, Utah has seen meteoric growth of payday lenders. The first store appeared here in 1984. In 1994, the Salt Lake area still had only 14, according to old Yellow Pages. Now, the state has 381 payday loan stores or licensed online lenders.

Utah has more payday loan stores than 7-Elevens, McDonalds, Burger Kings and Subway stores — combined. "It's more convenient to get a payday loan here than it is to get a hamburger or sandwich," said Jerry R. Jaramillo, a supervisor in the Utah Department of Financial Institutions who oversees inspections of the industry.

While payday lenders in Utah face relatively few regulations, Deseret Morning News visits to 67 stores showed that about a quarter of them still broke at least one of even those easy rules.

The Deseret Morning News also found lenders who made misleading claims to a reporter asking about loans. It found fine print in applications and contracts that could easily lead to financial disaster and surprises. It found stores offering many other high-priced loan products to the financially troubled.

Many bills have been proposed in the Legislature to more tightly regulate the industry, but few have passed.

Critics blame that on some surprising, powerful allies of the payday loan industry: mainstream banks that oppose limits (even very high ones) on interest rates. They want to preserve Utah's wide-open, let-the-market-rule financial atmosphere.

Such allies are powerful. The financial industry is the largest donor to members of the Legislature, providing $1 of every $8 raised by them in the last election.

How loans work

Payday loans are quick, available for even those with horrible credit, and help customers avoid the embarrassment of asking relatives or friends for money. But the loans come at extremely high interest.

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