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Pressure to Regulate Payday Lenders Mounts in Texas

April 20, 2011

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas - The state Senate is considering a measure to constrain "payday lending" practices.

Texas leads the nation in businesses that offer short-term, unsecured loans, typically to low-income borrowers trying to make ends meet until the next paycheck. Lenders argue that the loans are risky and warrant high interest rates and fees. Critics call the loans "predatory" because borrowers often don't realize they have alternatives.

Ron Rogers, who counsels low-income workers in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the nation's poorest regions, says that in today's economy payday lending is more widespread than ever.

"You see signs everywhere: 'Easy credit.' 'Fast credit' 'Get it now.' Well, the least among us are ones that are the most susceptible to falling for something like that. It's pretty sad."

Rogers is president of the South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center (START) in San Benito, where he says there are only three banks but 15 payday lenders. Rogers says those lenders are sucking what little wealth there is out of the community. START steers would-be borrowers toward alternatives such as credit unions and employer pay advances.

Rogers supports the pending legislation, which would cap fees and the size of payday loans, and provide repayment options. He also wants to limit interest rates, which he says can add up to as much as 500 percent in the course of a year. About one-third of states regulate payday loans, but with the industry's heavy footprint in Texas, Rogers is fearful the bill will have a tough time becoming law here.

"This industry has strong lobbyists, and many of the lobbyists are associated with a lot of state senators and state representatives. They are powerful."

SB 1862, the measure that passed the state Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, would restrict payday lending to 35 percent of a borrower's monthly income and cap fees at 15 percent. Its author is Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX