By Kelly Griffith and Cynthia Zwick
As working Arizona families struggle to maintain jobs and reliable sources of income in a historically dire economy, the last thing they need is a predatory debt trap making matters worse.
A securities lender recently claimed his business was essential: charging triple-digit interest on loans that trap people in debt at the risk of losing the vehicles they depend on. It is an insult to families who are most exposed to the health impact of COVID-19 as well as financial devastation.
Arizona voters sent a clear message in 2008 that payday lenders were unwelcome to continue charging vulnerable consumers outrageous interest rates of up to 391%. Voters rejected a payday industry-sponsored voting measure by a 3 to 2 margin, which ultimately led the state to cap payday loan interest rates at 36%.
And a recent poll indicates that Arizona voters, regardless of their political party, strongly oppose these predatory practices. Seventy percent of Arizona voters support a 36% interest rate cap. Eight in 10 Americans (81%) support a ban on all high interest loans during the coronavirus crisis, with more than half (56%) doing so strongly.
Even though the recent increase in COVID-19 cases demonstrates that the virus knows no bounds on who it affects, it has become evident that this virus has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. The same goes for predatory loans. In states where payday loans are legal, stores are heavily concentrated in black and Latino communities, stripping precious wealth from places that are already in trouble.
Auto title lending stores follow the same pattern. A 2018 car title lending location mapping by Tucson’s Center for Economic Integrity found that high-cost lenders are much more likely to be located in low-income neighborhoods of color. In Arizona alone, these predatory lenders drain $ 255 million a year from our most vulnerable neighbors.
In the event of a pandemic, defending this legalized usurious loan exposes people of color to economic catastrophe on top of the worst health problems they already face.
As a society, we have a responsibility to be aware of how devastating securities lending can be for the individuals, families and communities of color who are most often the targets of unscrupulous lenders. Aside from television commercials and billboards, a small, triple-digit interest rate loan does not offer relief from financial hardship. These types of loans take a precarious financial situation and turn it into an absolute disaster.
Auto title lenders continue to file collection cases against their borrowers despite the emergency declared by Governor Ducey on March 11. loans are unaffordable and borrowers are in trouble. The effects of small, high-cost loans create additional damage and widen health and wealth gaps, especially now in times of a pandemic.
Securities loans are predatory and designed in such a way that the borrower is trapped in a never-ending cycle of debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has found that one in five borrowers have repossessed their vehicles and that two-thirds of lender volume comes from borrowers stranded in seven or more loans.
The majority of securities lending companies in Arizona are regional or national chains, not family businesses. At least 18 approved securities lenders are headquartered outside of Arizona, representing 25% of businesses and 59% of approved sites offering loans in Arizona.
There are at least six licensed companies out of state that offer loans online without providing physical locations in Arizona, with the entire transaction handled electronically. In some cases, consumers apply for loans online, submit documents, and then take out loans with local agents.
Now more than ever, consumers need to be protected from these largely out-of-state financial predators, so that legitimate small lenders who meet Arizona’s small consumer loan limit of 36% APR or less can arise in a fair and equitable market. .
Individuals and families do not need to access predatory products. What we need is for the state to deal with the issue of unemployment insurance, access to food, medical care, broadband, telehealth and other issues. urgent economic issues. And we need to strengthen consumer protections to guard against exploitation, including repealing the legal exclusion that allows triple-digit interest rate car title loans. This is the role of government during a crisis.
Arizonans are resourceful, resilient, and able to navigate just about anything. Loan programs that prey on people when they are most vulnerable on the pretext of being useful during a pandemic is a bit like a wolf parading in sheep’s clothing. Only those who profit from it agree with the trick. The rest of Arizona voters see it for what it is — wear and tear.
Editor’s Note: Kelly Griffith is the Executive Director of the Arizona Center for Economic Integrity and Cynthia Zwick is the Executive Director of Wildfire.