The scourge of payday lending

Payday lending really pulls in people who need help and feel they have nowhere else to turn.

The Rev. Lloyd Fields, pastor of Greater Gilgal Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, remembers when he turned to that  type of  financing.

Now 73 years old, he can remember a half-century ago when he was a married deacon with a wife and four children to support. He had a mentor in his denomination, another deacon, “If I ever needed anything, I could always go to Deacon Williams,” Rev. Fields recalled. “But after so many times going to him, I was embarrassed to go to Deacon Williams. So I went to the payday loan company.”

Fifty years later Rev. Fields cannot remember how much he needed, but it was for necessities. “I had a low-paying job and a family. I needed money to pay the light bill, the gas bill, to keep food in the house. And I didn’t have adequate credit to go to the upstanding loan companies.”

Rev. Fields can’t recall the interest rate he was charged. Not that it mattered at the time to him. “I didn’t know. I didn’t care,” he said. “It was the max. And I always had to borrow up to the max,” because as another two weeks passed, he didn’t have enough money to pay off the loan, not to mention the mounting interest.

The poor are the most vulnerable to payday lending schemes. (CNS/Reuters)

The poor are the most vulnerable to payday lending schemes. (CNS/Reuters)

For Rev. Fields, salvation came in the form of a better-paying government job. And with the job came the opportunity to join a credit union. When he went to the credit union, he got a bit of bad news: “They told me I had to be employed for six months before I could join,” he recalled. By this time, he had gone to a second payday loan company to pay off the first one.

But “the first day after the sixth month,” Rev. Fields returned to the credit union to join. He got a loan to consolidate his payday-lending debts, and the credit union “put me on a payroll deduction. It was one of the happiest days of my life.”

Another Kansas City resident, Elliott Clark of Christ the King Parish, told of his five-year struggle to pay off his payday loan in an op-ed article that appeared in the Kansas City Star. It can be read by going to

Rev. Fields, too, have never forgotten his payday-lending experience. He was involved in the unsuccessful 2012 effort to get a referendum on the Missouri ballot to put a 36 percent interest-rate ceiling on payday loans; the average interest rate in the state is 455 percent. “While we were fighting it, one young lady came to me and cried and almost apologized because she had to take out a payday loan while we were fighting the payday loan companies.” he said.

He said he told her not to be sorry. “It’s just not right for them (payday lenders) to charge enormous interest and fees to people who are just trying to make a life for themselves and their families,” Rev. Fields said. “This is ungodly. … I don’t mind you making a profit, but if you make it off the backs of people, it’s dishonest.”

With no lobbying restrictions in Missouri, and no limits on campaign contributions, Rev. Fields fears lawmakers won’t take action. He’s looking to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Board to set nationwide rules on payday lending.

Rev. Fields recalls when preachers “used to talk about taverns on every corner. Now we talk about payday loan companies on every corner.” He added that in Missouri, “there are more payday loan companies than McDonald’s, Wal-Marts and Starbucks combined. In fact, there are almost twice as many.”

Today’s borrowers are no different than he was in the 1960s. They don’t hear the interest rate being charged, and they don’t notice until it’s too late. “They get eaten up to death,” Rev. Fields said.

He plans to take part in a daylong training session Feb. 21 with about 50 others and sponsored by the Center for Responsible Lending to try to protect and inform others about payday loans.

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