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'Payday' Loans Could Hasten Financial 'Doomsday'

March 25, 2008

Rochester, NY - The sub-prime crisis could be just the tip of the economic iceberg that's sinking homeowners with escalating mortgage payments. Some New Yorkers could get even deeper in debt with predatory "payday loans," which accumulate annual interest rates as high as 800 percent and more.

Rebecca Case-Grammatico with the Empire Justice Center says the "easy credit" for anyone with wages or a pension is not at all easy to pay off.

"As soon as you get paid again, you repay the loan. The catch is that you repay it with substantial fees and costs. So, ultimately, you end up borrowing over and over and over again. The only thing you ever pay back are just the fees. They can go as high as 800 percent, but they're not captured as interest rates, they're captured as 'fees and costs.'"

Empire Justice has recently seen a sharp increase in distressed New Yorkers who go out of state for emergency loans to cover their escalating mortgage payments, despite local consumer protections against such "payday lending."

"The benefit for New York is they're effectively banned, because the interest rate is far in excess of the usury rate in New York State. The downside is that the borrower can get access to these loans through the Internet, and there's nothing that New York State can do about that because they don't have jurisdiction."

Payday loan advocates say they're needed in low-income communities, and that their costs are competitive with conventional bank fees for de facto loans such as cash advances and overdrafts. Case-Grammatico disagrees.

"Certainly, there are fees that a bank is going to charge, but they are nowhere compared to these payday lenders. Whereas you're going to get overdraft fees, but these fees at some point are going to stop, and the bank will simply shut you off. The bottom line is that the fees from the bank are much less than the fees from the payday loan."

Nationwide, payday loans exceeded $28 billion in 2005. Consumer advocates are now pushing for federal legislation to limit the loans to 36 percent annual interest, similar to protections recently enacted for those in military service. The New York State Banking Department provides online advice for potential payday borrowers.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY