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WA Lawmakers Try Again to Corral Payday Lenders

February 10, 2009

Olympia, WA – For years, the Washington Legislature has rejected efforts to cap the interest rates charged by payday lenders. Today, as the House Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance considers some of this year's attempts, the economy may change their odds of success.

One of the bills is a different approach, from a former banker. In HB 1709, Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-Dist. 34) proposes that, if someone falls behind on a payday loan, they could be given more time and a payment schedule, rather than a whole new loan that often starts a growing cycle of debt.

"What you don't want to do is put someone who takes out a loan in a position where they can't repay. Well, in this case, the individual's already demonstrated they're having trouble repaying it. So, we open it up, so they have a pathway out of this debt and can actually meet their obligation."

A new survey by AARP Washington found 78 percent of Washington voters would support capping interest rates at 36 percent, which is what almost one-third of states already do. Nelson says the lenders insist they can't survive on that. In this economy, they add, their clients need the ability to get small, short-term loans.

Her proposal is a compromise, with an interest rate that's closer to 60 percent. While it's not perfect, she says, it is a plan the payday lending industry might accept.

"It doesn't take 'em down to 36 percent; but it certainly takes 'em out of the current 391 percent interest rate that they can get on some of these loans. And, of course, another primary goal for me is that folks have an installment program to get out of the debt."

Currently in Washington, the only limits on interest rates for short-term loans are for military families. Congress capped their interest rate at 36 percent. There are at least nine bills this session that focus on payday lending.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA