Fighting predatory lenders can feel a little like taking on the 2015 Kentucky basketball team, but last week the odds for millions of underdogs across America got a lot better.
Remarks by President Obama in neighboring Alabama and the corresponding announcement by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of federal regulations aimed at ending debt traps were a welcome jolt of March Madness.
David is getting in a good hit on Goliath.
Calling out the small dollar lenders that are seemingly ubiquitous in poor neighborhoods, Obama said: "If you're lending to somebody, knowing they can't pay you back, and you're going to put them on the hook and just squeeze them harder and harder and harder and take more and more money out of them, you're taking advantage of them. ... If you're making (a) profit by trapping hardworking Americans into a vicious cycle of debt, you got to find a new business model."
When Director Richard Cordray and his staff visited my home state of Mississippi a year and a half ago, people in the Mississippi Delta told horror stories of going to borrow a small amount of money and ending up owing thousands of dollars in fees and interest. When leaving our state, Director Cordray vowed to always keep the people of the Delta in mind as he carried out his charge to protect consumers. In explaining the proposed regulations yesterday, Cordray acknowledged that people need ways to borrow money.
"Consumers need credit that helps them, not harms them," Cordray said.
Many payday lenders target people who lack access to bank services. At Hope Credit Union, we have demonstrated that you don't have to charge predatory rates to people just because of where they live, their age or their skin color.
More than one-third of HOPE members did not have a bank account before joining HOPE. And most of them live in low-income and rural communities. But just like everyone else, they sometimes need access to affordable, responsible credit. And they should not be taken advantage of by predators whose business model is designed to exploit vulnerable people during a time of need.
President Obama evoked fairness. Making good on the promise of America in the Deep South where the scourge of predatory lending is most rampant. In Alabama again, where recent recognitions of Bloody Sunday reminded us our work to build a more perfect union is not finished.
But we'll take the victories where we can get them. And march on.