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Report: More than One Third of Missourians Lack "Rainy Day" Funds

February 9, 2012

ST. LOUIS - A lot of people in Missouri could not make it very long if they lost their job. A new report from the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development finds 38 percent to be "liquid-asset poor," meaning they do not have enough savings to live at poverty level for three months in a financial emergency.

The Rev. Martin Rafanan runs Missouri's largest homeless shelter, Gateway 180. He says many people living paycheck-to-paycheck dig themselves deeper in debt with payday loans that can accumulate huge interest rates.

"You think you can pay it back quickly but then you can't quite fully pay it back. You take another loan to cover that. That's how you can get these outrageous interest percentages - sometimes up to 600, 700, 800 percent or more."

Rafanan belongs to a coalition of religious groups calling on the state to impose a 36-percent cap on payday loan interest. Payday lenders say they provide a service to people considered a high credit risk who are tight on money.

Rafanan says those who are unable to save up for emergencies wind up in worse trouble when they borrow from payday lenders. In fact, his organization is providing transitional housing for two families who did just that, he says.

"In the case of these two families, they had payday loans in excess of $2,000 each, which gets to be very difficult to pay off."

Rafanan says many people who can't find a way to save up for a rainy day wind up in his shelter.

"This story is a very familiar one for us: a family on a very tight margin. There's a slip-up of some kind, a health care problem, loss of a job. The result of that can be disastrous."

The report says that 56 percent of Missourians have sub-prime credit, and it recommends that the state regulate payday lending practices and help people get access to fair financial products.

The full report is available at http://scorecard.cfed.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO