I know this because I once had very few financial options. In my case, a payday loan saved me from losing my home. I was a divorced mom faced with the choice of taking care of my sick mother or losing my home. I was aware of the cost of the payday loan and decided that it was the best and least expensive option for me at the time.
Today, I represent an organization of more than 115,000 of these consumers from every state in the nation. They are hardworking Americans who have limited financial options. Many have already suffered greatly from the nation’s economic fallout. Whether they are a single mother supporting a family; a grown child responsible for an elderly parent; an hourly worker whose hours were cut; or just someone with an imperfect credit score, they are all struggling to pursue the “American Dream”-- to rise up from the bottom on their own. Unfortunately, many have found they cannot do that under the traditional banking system, so they turn to alternative financial options, like a payday loan.
Credit is already hard to come by for those who have no credit history or a less than perfect credit score. As a result of the Credit Card Act, the total supply of credit has dropped significantly. Average credit card interest rates have risen three percentage points. The number of cards with annual fees has increased dramatically. Many cardholders have had their credit lines reduced, or even canceled and new applications are more likely to be denied. Now, a CFPA would be empowered to limit or take away their last remaining financial options.
Chances are lawmakers have never had trouble getting credit and have never been forced to make tough choices to make ends meet. They probably don’t understand that payday loans are less expensive than bouncing a check or paying late fees. But, our members can tell them that when emergencies happen, a payday loan is their best option.
When making policy that will change lives, there is no room for assumptions. Lawmakers need to talk directly to real consumers and listen to their stories. Not to the “so-called” consumer groups who pretend to speak for the consumer, but to an actual consumer who got a payday loan when his car broke down and he had no other way to get to work. And, to a consumer who needed a payday loan to pay for an unexpected trip to the emergency room. And, to the many consumers who carefully weighed their options for short-term credit -- bouncing a check, overdrawing their bank account, not paying their bills on time -- and concluded that a payday loan was their best, least expensive option.
Just like any financial service, a payday loan should be used responsibly. There will always be consumers who overdraw their banks accounts, borrow too much from their home equity loans or run up their credit card bills, and there will be those who abuse payday loans. But, empowering a bureaucratic agency to ban these financial products is unfair to the vast majority of consumers who use them responsibly.
The best way to truly protect consumers is to let them make their own financial choices among a wide variety of options. Let’s focus on fixing Wall Street and the problems that led to this country’s financial crisis, without punishing those of us on Main Street.
Gerri Guzman is executive director of Consumer Rights Coalition (CRC). CRC is a consumer-based organization dedicated to ensuring that Americans will continue to have access to all forms of credit.