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Car Title Lending Expansion Awaits Governor's Action

March 3, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. - They say money can't buy happiness, but some say it can buy votes and get legislation passed. SB 1367, a bill that allows car-title lending companies to expand their reach to include out-of-staters, has passed both houses of the Virginia Legislature and is now on its way to the governor's desk.

Ward Scull is a Newport News businessman and founder of a coalition called Virginians Against Payday Loans. He says records show that the biggest campaign contributors to legislators in Virginia are financial institutions, adding that most of them are behind what he calls "predatory" lending practices, like car-title lending.

"Other than money, why would they vote to change a law that just went into effect? It just appears to me that money and contributions to campaigns and to legislators, and lobbyists and so forth, is a big, huge impact here in Virginia."

Ward says the bill is basically an amendment to a law that went into effect last October designed to regulate car-title lending companies. It offers several consumer protections, such as one loan at a time for borrowers, and lenders must give 15 days notice before selling car after a repossession. He says a recent poll of registered voters in Virginia shows that more than 70 percent of respondents support capping interest rates charged by car-title lending companies at 36 percent.

Bruce Elder is a city councilman in Stanton. He has been working on legislation to rein in the high interest rates charged by the payday and car title lenders. In Virginia, he says, the annual interest rate averages about 240 percent.

"We now have 100 localities throughout the state of Virginia that have specifically asked that the interest rate be maximized at 36 percent. Legislation was sponsored by Glenn Oder in the House and Mamie Locke in the Senate this year, and both were shut down by commerce and labor committees."

Elder adds that interest rates have been capped at 36 percent for military members as a result of federal regulations in 2007, and he hopes Gov. McDonnell will use an executive order to kill the out-of-state title lending.

The poll referenced by Ward was conducted by NTS Research via telephone to more than 300 voters.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA