Correction: CNS-Predatory Loans story
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A VCU Capital News Service story published Feb. 20 by The Associated Press about a bill to set a cap on high-interest loans erroneously reported the annual interest cost on a $1,000 loan by CashNetUSA. At an annual interest rate of 299 percent, and with monthly payments of $268, the annual interest would be $2,213, not $15,000 after one year and $200,000 after two years.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Delegate aims to rein in ‘predatory loans,’ to no avail
You’re pre-approved!” CashNetUSA, a Chicago-based company, exclaimed in a letter to Alexandria resident Mark Levine
By SIONA PETEROUS
Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. - “You’re pre-approved!” CashNetUSA, a Chicago-based company, exclaimed in a letter to Alexandria resident Mark Levine. ”$1,000 is waiting!” Smaller print at the bottom of the solicitation noted that the annual interest rate would be 299 percent. As a result, the interest on a $1,000 loan, repaid over a year with monthly payments of $268, would total $2,213.
Levine wasn’t just any name on CashNetUSA’s direct-mail list. He’s also a state delegate. In his weekly newsletter to constituents, he said the interest on the loan would be far higher than the company’s figures. Surprised and outraged by the ad, he introduced a bill this legislative session to ban high-interest loans.
“If someone needs money in an emergency, then they shouldn’t have to be straddled with obscene debt for years,” Levine said. “I would love to see how many people actually are able to pay back these offensive interest rates - because the goal of these predatory loans isn’t to get people to pay them back in full; it’s to make sure they are declaring bankruptcy so the company can get everything they own.”
A CashNetUSA spokesperson disputed Levine’s characterization, saying that it is not the company’s practice to file proofs of claim against consumers in bankruptcy in Virginia and that its product is an unsecured credit offering regardless.
According to the National Consumer Law Center, Virginia is one of four states that do not regulate interest rates and borrowing requirements on open-credit loans offered by in-store or online lenders.
Dana Wiggins, director of outreach and consumer advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said open-credit loans, which critics call predatory loans, do not take into account a borrower’s ability to repay. These loans typically have fee costs and interest rates of more than 100 percent, she said.
House Bill 404, introduced by Levine, a Democrat, in January, sought to cap the interest rate at 36 percent and give borrowers up to 25 days to pay back their loan before it would accrue interest. The bill was co-sponsored by Republican Dels. Gordon Helsel of Poquoson and David Yancey of Newport News and Democratic Dels. Paul Krizek and Kathleen Murphy, both of Fairfax.
However, the measure died last week in the House Commerce and Labor Committee after a subcommittee voted 6-2 along party lines to kill it. Robert Baratta, representing the lender Check Into Cash Inc., spoke in opposition to the bill at the subcommittee’s meeting, saying it would hurt consumers by limiting their options for borrowing money.
In recent years, Virginia has cracked down on payday loans, forbidding them from charging more than 36 percent annual interest.
“I still feel like 36 percent is still too high,” Levine said. “But at least then, borrowers have a chance to pay these loans back. Because right now, if anyone were to take one of these (open-credit) loans out, my advice to them would be for them to declare bankruptcy the next day.”
According to Wiggins, the problem regulating high-interest loans can be traced to 1998 when Virginia first allowed payday loans to operate in the state.
“It’s like regulatory whack-a-mole,” Wiggins said. “Every time you put a restriction on them, these companies morph their product to be just enough different and just outside the law that’s trying to rein them in, so that they end up getting around that state statute and then another statute.”
Attorney General Mark Herring has been working on the issue of predatory loans since 2014.
“Virginians who resort to Internet loans are often exploited by their own circumstances - in need of money for groceries, rent, or car repairs,” Herring said in a press release after settling a case against a Las Vegas-based internet lending company, Mr. Amazing Loans, in October.
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has received more than 1,270 complaints about CashNetUSA or its parent company, Enova International. Complainants said the company had raised its interest rates, sought extra payments, threatened legal action against borrowers and made fraudulent claims of debt owed.
However, the CashNetUSA spokesperson said most of the claims were the result of fraud or criminal activity by fake debt collectors.
Wiggins said it’s possible to create government regulations that allow lenders to make a profit and protect borrowers from unscrupulous practices. She said Arkansas, North Carolina and other states have done so.
Officials at the Virginia Poverty Law Center were not surprised that Levine’s bill died in committee.
“We didn’t necessarily work with him or ask for him to put the bill in,” Wiggins said. “But not because we don’t agree with the policy itself - but because there is no political will to make that happen in the General Assembly.”
This story was produced by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.