Big Payday

Akron Beacon Journal - February 27, 2007

An expanding industry merits expanded state attention

The Akron Beacon Journal

The payday lending industry has expanded rapidly the past decade, doubling in size since 2000. Ohio mirrors the story. In 1996, there were 107 payday businesses in the state. Today, the number exceeds 1,500. In Summit County, the number went from three in ’96 to 65 last year. Stark County went from two to 65, Wayne from zero to nine, Portage from zero to nine, Medina from zero to 15.

Payday lending involves short-term, high-interest loans, a borrower using his or her paycheck as leverage to obtain cash. The customers are financially strapped, no surprise. They often fall into a cycle of debt, the costs for every $100 borrowed translating into an annual interest rate of 391 percent.

Lenders argue that such calculations amount to hyperbole. They stress that they provide a needed service in communities. The pertinent question isn’t whether the businesses should be permitted to operate. Rather, it involves whether the public sector should toughen oversight and regulation.

On Thursday, Policy Matters Ohio and the Housing Research & Advocacy Center reported the above information and other data charting payday lending in the state. The study noted that Ohio already sets rules for payday lenders, limiting, for instance, the maximum size of a loan ($800). In light of the larger role of payday lenders (reflecting, in part, an Ohio struggling economically) state lawmakers must examine closely the recommendations of the report.

Few would argue with taking steps to educate vulnerable consumers. Other banks would do well to follow KeyBank of Cleveland in establishing an enlightened presence in battered neighborhoods. Governments shouldn’t subsidize payday lenders, on one occasion routing $7 million in grants and loans.

Pennsylvania has banned payday lending. Other states, including Michigan and Illinois, are moving to strengthen their rules. Ohio should take seriously its duty to prohibit rank exploitation, usury, in a word. The Policy Matters Ohio and Housing Research & Advocacy Center report proposes a limit of 36 percent on the annual interest rate, echoing a federal law designed to protect military families. That is a good place for the Ohio discussion to start.

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