Southeast Texas non-profit takes aim at payday loan businesses

Cash advance stores are a dime a dozen on College Street in Beaumont. In fact, there are 21 payday loan and auto title loan businesses in Beaumont alone.

They help people in a tough spot who need quick cash, but some people say these companies do more harm than good.

"They're taking advantage of people who are least able to pay this kind of money back," said Carol Fernandez, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, which helps families going through tough financial times.

Fernandez says they see cases all the time of clients who are worse off after getting cash advances from payday loan companies.

"They're often charged interest rates starting at 300% or even up to 1,000%... and it's outrageous," Fernandez said.

In Texas, and other states, payday loan businesses are not regulated like banks.

"They're licensed as loan brokers... they're not the actual lender, and so because of that they can charge these broker's fees and whatever other types of fees they may assess on these loan accounts," said Fernandez.

After two years of unsuccessful attempts to convince state lawmakers to pass stricter regulations, Catholic Charities is now trying to bring about change on a local level.
Next week they will host 3 days of meetings and focus groups, a statewide collaborative including the organizations Texas Appleseed, Texas Baptists, the Texas Fair Lending Association, the Texas Catholic Conference and other concerned groups.

Fernandez says local elected officials, representatives with financial institutions, and payday loan clients will also be invited to attend the seminars. Fernandez says the main goal is to brainstorm alternatives for people who need quick cash, and to push local elected officials to bring about change.

"The bottom line is just that we want something that's fair," Fernandez said.

Fernandez says while they won't be able to set limits on interest rates, which has to be done at the state level, they can push for city ordinances that would limit how many businesses can open in the community and in what parts of town.

If you have had a bad experience with a payday or auto title lender and would like more information on next week's meetings, you can call Catholic Charities at (409) 924-4424.



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