Survey: Triple-digit payday loans, title loans opposed

Brian J. O'Connor
Detroit News Finance Editor

In an attempt to influence state legislators, a Michigan consumer group released on Tuesday a survey showing that more than 80 percent of Michiganians are opposed to triple-digit payday loans as well as short-term “title loans” secured by a borrower’s car.

In a survey of 500 likely voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, 89 percent opposed issuing longer-term payday loans, 89 percent opposed allowing auto-title lending and 84 percent said they’d have a less favorable opinion of lawmakers who support payday expansion.

Payday loans are allowed in Michigan for amounts up to $600 for 31 days, and typically involve a worker borrowing in advance of his or her next paycheck. A $100 loan with a lending fee of $15 for two weeks would equal to an annual percentage rate of 391 percent, according to figures from the state attorney general.

Michigan doesn’t allow borrowers to renew the loans. Consumer advocates consider the loans predatory and abusive, and are pushing to limit annual interest rates on the loans to 36 percent and require lenders to review the borrower’s ability to repay the loan.

The lending industry has been seeking to expand in Michigan in recent years, and consumer groups say they expect another attempt soon. At the end of 2014, the Legislature was considering adding a measure to the Michigan Pawnbrokers Act that would have legalized auto-title lending, which is illegal in the state. The measure was tabled after opposition from pawnbrokers and media reports.

At least two online lenders have been illegally offering title loans in the state, and the attorney general’s office has filed court motions to block collection efforts on those loans, including repossessing vehicles.

“We are trying to get on the front end of expected legislation,” said Jessica AcMoody, senior policy specialist with the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, which commissioned the survey. “In the past couple of years we’ve seen a push in Michigan by out-of-state lenders to legalize both longer-term, triple-digit loans, as well as auto-title lending, and this legislation seems to be popping up in every session.”

Messages and emails to the Community Financial Services Association of America, which represents payday lenders, went unanswered Tuesday.

In the past, payday lenders have argued restrictions on high-interest, short-term loans deprives consumers of financial options.

Payday lenders have gone to great lengths to keep lending in states that have moved against them. After Ohio voters won legislation banning payday lending following a 2008 voter referendum, lenders continued to exploit loopholes and make loans with annual interest rates of up to 591 percent.

According to the association, the survey results showed no particular split along party lines, with Republicans, Independents and Democrats all sharply opposed to more short-term lending in the state.

“The poll shows clear bipartisan opposition to these products,” AcMoody said. “And it shows that voting in favor would be a political liability for legislators.