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Reforms to Payday Loan Industry Deserve Church Support

There are more payday loan and title loan companies in Missouri than Starbucks, McDonald’s and Wal-Marts combined. Think about that.

It’s hard to imagine being charged 450 percent on a 30-day loan for $650, but I saw one of these loan applications for myself.

I cannot imagine what it is like for persons who have a financial crisis (which can be something that costs less than $1,000) take out a payday loan and then have to take out additional loans every month to pay for it.

It is not uncommon for persons to borrow a few hundred dollars, yet pay thousands of dollars in interest and fees.

It’s not right, and it’s time to do something about it.

Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is holding a hearing at the Kansas City Convention Center.

This meeting will feature remarks from CFPB Director Richard Cordray, as well as testimonies from consumer groups, industry representatives and members of the public.

I’m hopeful that we will hear new guidelines and parameters that will reform the payday/title loan industry.

There is a lot of information available on this issue. You can read more about the impact of payday loans and how they exploit those who can least afford it at Stop the Debt Trap.

I did an interview recently where I was asked about the political nature of this issue, and how churches might be reluctant to get involved for that reason.

In my view, payday and title loan reform is not a political issue, but a justice issue. It is about fairness. There is nothing about charging 450 percent interest (and higher!) on a loan that is fair or just. We can do better as a community than this.

There are many causes and reasons for poverty. For example, Springfield, Missouri, has a high poverty rate, despite the fact that the rate of unemployment is relatively low.

One facet of systematic poverty is the presence of these high interest loan companies. It is not a coincidence that payday and title loan companies saturate low-income areas of cities.

These high interest, short-term loans seem to be a fix for an immediate need. But, they turn out to be financial bait to trap people in a cycle of debt.

I am certain there will be significant opposition to any changes or controls to payday loan companies. I’m sure there will be a segment that feels they are providing a service to the community.

This industry can continue providing resources to persons who might not be able to get loans from banks or credit unions, but they shouldn’t be able to put people into financial slavery over loans of less than $1,000.

There are many issues that tend to divide the faith community. It’s unfortunate that we have difficulty working together because we don’t all agree on theology or doctrine.

But, surely we can come together and agree that exploiting the poor is something that is not consistent with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He came to “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:16-21).

Payday loan reform is not only an economic issue but also a spiritual one. It has been encouraging to see more faith leaders and communities getting informed and involved.

We’ve been asking for change for a long time, and I’m ready for some good news on this issue.

Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ChisholmDanny.

Editor’s note: A free PDF resource sheet on payday loans and predatory lending practices is available here.