Payday lenders to post their fees, rates on posters

SATURDAY, NOV. 17, 2007

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Many payday lending shops will be required by an industry trade group to put up small posters displaying their fees and interest rates.

But one critic said the posters are little more than window dressing for an industry long derided for taking advantage of people.

The trade group, Community Financial Services Association of America, which represents 60 percent of the industry, issued the new policy Thursday, saying consumers have a right to know the costs of payday lending in simple terms.

The posters, 18 by 22 inches, will be up by January, displaying annual percentage rates and fees.

Payday lenders offer quick cash advances – for a fee – that customers are supposed to repay with their next paycheck. Borrowers who cannot repay the loan often “roll over” the loan repeatedly, with charges that quickly add up and lead to a cycle of debt. Customers are drawn to the lenders because, unlike banks and credit unions, they don’t run credit checks.

The industry has faced lawsuits, tighter regulation from state governments and mounting criticism from national groups, including the NAACP.

“This is a very small step and perhaps one that should have been taken long before,” NAACP spokesman Richard McIntire said Friday.

“Whether it makes a significant difference remains to be seen.”

The posters don’t change the need for people to read their loan agreements carefully, McIntire said.

“It’s legalized robbery in some cases,” he said.

South Carolina state Sen. Vince Sheheen, a lawyer who is suing payday lenders on behalf of customers, said the posters will not help.

“What’s going on is we have people who are generally in very unstable situations financially,” Sheheen said. “Literally it is window dressing.”

The posters do mark a shift for the industry, Sheheen said.

“They have typically called it a fee and tried to say it’s not interest,” said Sheheen, who also has pushed legislation overhauling payday lending regulations.

The signs aren’t expected to affect business at the nation’s largest payday lender, South Carolina-based Advance America Cash Advance Centers Inc., company spokesman Jamie Fulmer said.

The company has long posted similar disclosures so consumers have “the information that is best for them to make their choices,” Fulmer said.

Advance America is one of several lenders named in Sheheen’s lawsuit, which claims the companies attract borrowers to “unconscionable loans” and trap them in an endless cycle of trying to repay the loans.

“We think those lawsuits are frivolous and we’re going to vigorously defend ourselves,” Fulmer said.


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