EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

January 31, 2008

Lawmakers may cap high-interest loan rates

SALEM - Jackie Clemens got a $1,000 title loan yesterday.

The Lawrence, Mass., resident said her roommate had stolen her rent money and she needed the cash right away. So, without many options, Clemens went to Route 28 in Salem, home to a handful of title and payday lenders. She put up the title of her Acura RSX as collateral and got a loan.

"It was my choice. You choose to do it," she said of the decision to take money from an industry many critics have called unscrupulous.

But when told state lawmakers were considering regulations that would effectively put the title and payday lending industry out of business, Clemens answered in a single word: "Good."

Yesterday, the state Senate Commerce, Labor and Consumer Protection Committee heard testimony on proposals that would effectively eliminate title and payday lending in New Hampshire. The House passed a similar measure last month, 207-124.

Many lawmakers want to limit interest rates on those loans to 36 percent annually. Today, title and payday lenders generally charge between 400 percent and 600 percent annual interest.

And representatives of the lending industry said they need the higher interest rates to stay in business.

At 36 percent interest, a $100 payday loan would only accrue $1.38 in interest over the typical, two-week period, said Jamie Fulmer, spokesman for payday lender Advance America, which has outlets in Salem, Derry and Plaistow.

Right now, Advance America would make $20 on that loan, Fulmer said.

Title and payday loans are often for very small amounts - usually not much more than the $1,000 Clemens took out. And the loans are supposed to be paid off quickly, often within two weeks.

Advocates for title and payday lending said consumers want the loans, and said the vast majority of borrowers pay back their loans within two weeks.

Last year, for instance, lenders gave out 150,000 payday loans and 10,000 title loans in New Hampshire, according to Richard Bouley, a lobbyist for Advance America.

Beyond that, 95 percent of payday loans are paid in full and on time, Fulmer said.

But critics paint a far darker picture of both payday and title lending.

"It's a sin and it should be illegal," Salem Human Services Director Bob Loranger said of the lending practices.

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