Springfield City Council considering new regulations on payday loan businesses

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. "I refer to myself as a payday loan survivor."

That's the way Kathy Lutz, the president of the Grant Beach Neighborhood Association describes what she's been through in the last five years.

Lutz is also a heart attack survivor who had to take out a series of payday and title loans to pay her astronomical medical bills.

The APR finance rate on those short-term loans?

"412 percent," Lutz said with a frown.

Kathy is now part of a group that includes the Faith Voices of Southwest Missouri, the area NAACP, the League of Women voters, and the Poor People's Campaign that's fighting so that others don't end up in the same boat.

"Believe me a lot of people are getting hurt," she said. "The depression I experienced as a result of having the payday loans was not fun. It definitely was not conducive to my heart problems at all. I blamed myself. I felt like it was my fault."

Payday loan regulations in Missouri are among the softest in the country. Interest rates on a payday loan in the state are not to exceed 75 percent while the national rate is between 24-48 percent.

Springfield has a large number of short-term loan businesses and although the proposed ordinances being brought up Monday night do not address interest rates, the city council is looking at a number of other regulations.

The ordinance would require that all payday loan businesses register with the city and pass a background check with one of the proposals requiring a $5,000 license fee that would also have to be approved by voters.

The proposal would also mandate that signs be posted at the counters of the payday loan stores making clear the interest rates and the APR rates plus a warning that defaulting on the loan could result in loss of property and garnished wages.

We tried to contact several of the local payday loan businesses for interviews and got no takers but even those in favor of the ordinance say they're not trying to shut the businesses down.

"The payday loans do fill a gap," Lutz said.

"But the interest rates and the fact that people can't make payments on them and they're trapped there forever is frustrating," added Margery West, representing the League of Women Voters.

"My concern is that there are way too many of them and that they are way too predatory in terms of the high interest they charge and the way that they get people caught in a trap of having to renew them over and over," said Bob Perry, who's a part of Universal Hope, an organization formed by the University Heights Baptist Church to provide an alternative to payday loan businesses.

"So instead of paying 400-500 percent interest, it lets people pay 9-10 percent on a loan we guarantee," Perry explained.

The ordnance would also require payday loan businesses to provide a guide listing alternatives to their high-interest loans like the ones at University Hope.

While the ordnance will not lower interest rates, something that's been tried but failed at the state level, what supporters are hoping is the new rules would make at least some kind of difference.

"I just want them to do business with a heart," West said.

"Give us some semblance of protection, some hope here," Lutz added.

Monday's meeting was for public comment on the proposed ordinance. A final vote will take place at a later date.