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Report Highlights 'Other Debt Trap' Ahead of Obama Town Hall

May 13, 2009

Rio Rancho - President Obama is in New Mexico Thursday for a town hall meeting on credit card debt, just as a new report finds New Mexicans are also losing millions on another kind of loan. The report looked at states with high Native American populations and found that many Native Americans and others in the state are handing over millions of dollars a year to tax preparers and lenders that offer refund-anticipation loans.

Bill Jordan with New Mexico Voices for Children says the lenders target Native Americans and typically lower-income groups who receive earned-income and working families tax credits.

"The tax preparers and lenders take a percentage off the top and some of those tax credits available to low-income families just get taken away by the tax-refund lenders."

Jordan says with total interest rates as high as 500 percent, refund-anticipation loans are another important part of the debt problem that he hopes the President will take note of during the town hall, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at Rio Rancho High School. Jordan says the state could use help from the federal government in regulating these loans.

Lenders counter that they're providing an important service for low-income people who might not have other means of getting cash fast. Jordan notes that it only takes a few days to receive a refund when taxes are filed electronically, and many sites around the state offer free tax preparation and e-filing assistance.

Jordan accuses these lenders of making a killing by charging big fees and percentages on loans that are essentially no-risk and guaranteed to be paid back.

"I mean, let's face it - they're the ones filling out the tax return. These are not high-risk loans. It's unconscionable that they're taking their percentage off the top."

The report found the estimated total annual cost of the loans is more than $12 million – and that's just in New Mexico counties with high Native-American populations.

The report is at www.firstnations.org.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM