For all of the new year missteps the N.C. General Assembly has taken related to unemployment benefits and Medicaid, we never saw this one coming: A group of lawmakers wants to bring back payday lending.
The term should be a familiar one to longtime residents of the Twin Counties. It marks one of the highlights of N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s long term in office. Cooper, a Nash County native and former state legislator, succesfully led the charge 10 years ago to rid the state of these predatory practices.
In its heyday, payday lending preyed upon the poorest among us. The interest rates and fees were so outrageous that some borrowers found themselves paying $8,000 on a $200 loan. Even Congress recognized the misery caused by these predators. In 2007, it banned payday lending to U.S. military personnel.
Three legislators, including N.C. Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe County, have co-sponsored a bill that would re-open the door to these sharks. They argue that safeguards would be put in place to prevent the kind of egregious practices we saw before.
The legislation would put a cap on the amount of money someone could borrow at $500 with an interest rate of no more than 15 percent. But experts say the system would still be so rigged that a person borrowing that money would face an annual percentage rate of 300 percent for a loan repaid in two weeks’ time.
Cooper has voiced his feelings about the new legislation loudly and clearly.
“This is the same old ripoff we ran out of our state years ago,” he said in a prepared statement. “These overpriced loans trap borrowers in a cycle of debt many cannot escape. Payday lending was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now.”
Well said, Mr. Cooper. If only our legislators would listen.