Committee failed to protect poor borrowers

Published 11:46 pm Friday, April 12, 2013

In one of the few bipartisan efforts of Alabama’s 2013 legislative session, proposed reforms to predatory lending appeared to be gaining traction.

HB 320 by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, would have capped the allowable interest on payday loans at 36 percent. Currently, payday lenders charge 456 percent interest and trap desperate borrowers in cycles of debt than can wreck a family’s finances over a $500 loan.

A companion bill, HB 462 by Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, would have applied the 36 percent interest rate cap to auto title loans. Currently, title lenders charge 300 percent interest and confront needy borrowers with the possibility of having their only automobile – a lifeline to work and health care – repossessed.

Support of these bills appears to be a no-brainer. At a time when banks are paying 3 percent or less on savings accounts, and borrowers are financing homes at low interest rates, it is tantamount to legalized robbery to charge people who are strapped for cash 300 to 456 interest rates.

But the bipartisan support that looked promising was dealt a mighty blow Wednesday when the House Financial Services Committee sent the bills to a subcommittee, where they are expected to die a quiet death. One wonders about the successful lobbying effort to protect these lenders, while those who would protect the most vulnerable among us won’t get to debate the legislation, much less support it.

Yes, loaning money to desperate borrowers is riskier than financing a home for someone whose financial affairs are in order. But certainly, 30 percent interest should amply cover those risks.

The financial services committee should be ashamed.