A group of leaders from Oklahoma churches, nonprofits and Native American tribes called Tuesday for changes to the state's payday loan industry, which they say preys on poor people and often keeps them trapped in a cycle of debt.
The group Voices Organized for Civic Engagement, or VOICE, also urged Oklahomans to support proposed changes to federal rules that would impose new restrictions on the industry.
Proposed new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled earlier this year would require payday lenders to determine each customer's ability to repay the loan and limit the number of times a loan could be renewed. The federal agency currently is soliciting public comments on the new rules, and several faith leaders urged the public to support them.
"Predatory lending is pushing Oklahomans deeper and deeper into poverty," said Lori Walke, minister at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in northwestern Oklahoma City and a member of VOICE. "Payday lenders target economically depressed Oklahomans, zeroing in on areas with high populations of the elderly, young adults, immigrants and lower-income households."
Elise Robillard, a teacher and single mother, said she fell into a cycle several years ago of taking short-term, high-interest loans that ultimately played a role in her decision to file for bankruptcy.
"I spent the better part of 15 years stuck in a cycle of debt because of the initial payday loan that I took out," Robillard said.
Jamie Fulmer, a spokesman for Advance America, a payday lending chain with several locations in Oklahoma, said most of the company's customers are "extremely satisfied" with the its products and services.
"We've been regulated in Oklahoma for a number of years and have very few complaints filed against us," Fulmer said. "Any time you craft regulations, whether it's the state or federal level, it's important to talk to folks who actually use these services, the customer."
Fulmer said if the new federal rules go into effect, as much as 85 percent of the industry could disappear.
"We don't think that's in the best interest of consumers, who would be forced into higher-cost products like late fees or overdraft programs," Fulmer said.
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