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Payday Lending Crackdown Back Before Ohio Lawmakers

Payday loans store window
Taber Andrew Bain
Flickr Creative Commons

Nearly nine years after state lawmakers passed a crackdown on payday loan businesses and voters upheld that law, people are still borrowing from quick-cash lenders, and they’re still charging huge interest rates. Now another proposal to regulate the industry is back before legislators.

Payday lending is big business. A Pew Charitable Trusts study of the industry in Ohio from December found 1 in 10 adults has taken out a payday loan from among the more than 650 quick-cash lenders operating here – and charging interest rates up to 591 percent, the highest in the nation.

“This is low-income, hard-working Ohioans that are being exploited at the highest rate in the United States," Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors Association said. "We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. You know, in Ohio we love to be number one at everything, but this is not the thing we want to be number one at. We ought to be embarrassed by it.”

Potts took the rare step of speaking out for this bill, which was introduced recently but been discussed for weeks. It would cap interest rates that payday lenders can charge at 28 percent plus monthly fees of 5 percent on the first $400 – which comes out to $20. And it would also cap monthly payments at 5 percent of the borrower’s monthly income.

Potts says he hopes it can prevent situations where payday lending customers take out multiple loans just to pay off the original loan.

“For somebody who goes in to get quick cash on $300 and before you know it, they’ve paid back over $1,000 just to be able to do that, and then they often will end up at another lender to get a loan to pay back that amount and then get a third loan to do it,” he said.

Potts concedes that payday lenders provide a service – one that’s needed for people who need money quickly but don’t have any savings, credit or sometimes even bank accounts. And that’s a point hammered home by the industry.

“Any new legislation that imposes restrictive caps or onerous regulations will do nothing but harm the very consumers the legislation is designed to assist,” Pat Crowley of the Ohio Consumer Lenders Association said.

He says the industry’s customers are happy with the products it offers, and that making changes that would drive payday lenders out of business wouldn’t help those low-income people.

“By eliminating credit options, exposing consumers to more expensive options such as unregulated offshore internet lenders, overdrafts, utility shutoff fees or more, even illegal lending activities, proposing public policy that restricts credit access without providing a realistic alternative puts hundreds of thousands of Ohio families at risk,” Crowley said.

The Pew study shows most Ohioans who use payday lenders are working and making around $30,000 a year.

They’re paying more to these payday lenders here than borrowers in other states getting loans from the same companies – for instance, an Ohioan who borrowed $300 for five months would pay interest and fees of $680, but someone in Colorado would pay $172 for the same loan.

“What this tells us is, poverty is big business," Lisa Hamler-Fugitt executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks said. "This is an industry that has figured out how to exploit the most vulnerable in our society."

But Crowley says payday lenders offer a variety of products with different terms and fees, so a one-size-fits-all crackdown isn’t fair to those who want to continue to work with the borrowers who need them.

Capping interest rates for payday lenders may sound familiar. That’s because lawmakers did just that in 2008.

Payday lenders went to the ballot and spent $20 million on a campaign to repeal that law. But voters supported it 2-1.

Lenders simply found another section of the law under which to operate – an action some lawmakers encouraged, perhaps thinking lenders would offer cheaper loans, but also to keep an industry that’s been generous to candidates in Ohio.

Crowley hints the industry isn’t going away because of this bill.

“We’ll wait to see what happens with that. But we want to continue to operate and continue providing credit to our customers,” he said.

Democrat Michael Ashford of Toledo and Republican Marlene Anielski of Walton Hills near Cleveland had been working on the House bill, but Anielski dropped her name from it, saying she needed to focus on a suicide prevention bill.

Knowing he’d need a Republican to push it, Ashford then found support from Republican Kyle Koehler of Springfield.

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger didn’t have much to say about the bill other than it’ll get looked over carefully in hearings and he’ll meet with interested parties on both sides.