Payday lenders retain help of ex-AG Woods - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Payday lenders retain help of ex-AG Woods

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Posted: Thursday, November 26, 2009 7:01 pm | Updated: 2:14 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Unwilling to go away without a fight, the state's payday lenders are trying to convince lawmakers to let them stay in business despite a public vote to the contrary.

And they're hiring some big guns to do that.

The industry has retained the services of former state Attorney General Grant Woods. He told Capitol Media Services that, after studying a proposal for a new lease on life by lenders, he's convinced there is a role for payday lenders.

And the lenders have hired Highground, whose owners include Chuck Coughlin and Doug Cole, both confidants of and advisers to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

They have their work cut out for them.

By a 3-2 margin last year, Arizona voters rejected an industry-crafted proposal to repeal the law that prohibits them from remaining in business beyond June 30, 2010. That defeat occurred despite the industry pouring more than $14.7 million into the campaign; foes had less than $1 million.

Arizona's usury laws cap interest on consumer loans at 36 percent a year.

But industry lobbyists pushed through a special law in 2000 allowing them to charge fees that far exceed the cap for what are called "deferred presentment transactions" of up to $500.

In essence, someone who needs money writes out a check for that amount plus the fee, which can be up to $17.85 per $100 valued. The company agrees not to cash the check for up to two weeks.

That computes out to an annual percentage interest of more than 450 percent.

But when lawmakers enacted that 2000 statute, they wanted to see how the new loans would work. So they included a "sunset" clause: The law self-destructs July 1, 2010, unless renewed.

Efforts by industry lobbyists to convince lawmakers to remove the sunset failed, even when the industry offered concessions like stopping "rollovers" to prevent that original $500 two-week loan from being refinanced time after time, with ever-increasing fees. That led to the failed ballot measure.

Woods said he never thought much of payday lenders before he was asked to help build support for keeping them around. Woods said, though, the lenders have agreed to a series of reforms that make him comfortable working on their behalf.

But state Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said much of what they are offering now was in the industry's 2008 measure, the one voters found unacceptable.

For example, the plan would cap fees at $15 for every $100 borrowed instead of the $17.85. McCune Davis said that only lowers the annual percentage rate to 391 percent.

Woods said that interest figure, while technically accurate, is misleading.

"These are two-week loans, not annual loans," he said, with about 94 percent of borrowers paying them off within that time frame.

Woods said no one would provide a two-week unsecured loan at the 36 percent annual limit as that would generate just a few dollars to cover costs and profit.

Woods said the plan to be presented to lawmakers also would allow a borrower who cannot repay within the two-week period an extra 60 days without interest.

"I don't know any industry, any business, any bank, anybody who will give you 60 days, no fee, no interest," he said.

But that, too, was in the industry-financed initiative voters rejected. And McCune Davis said so were other reforms Woods is touting as improvements, including the prohibition on the rollover of existing loans and a method of ensuring that borrowers at one payday lender don't already have outstanding loans from another.

Woods said the fact that so many consumers use payday loans shows there is a need for short-term loans for people who have expenses but have no collateral. The alternative, he said, is bouncing checks, "title" loans secured by someone's vehicle, pawn shops or possibly loan sharks.

McCune Davis said Arizonans did just fine before payday loans were legal and will do so again if they go away.

She said there were lenders who loaned money under the old 36 percent interest cap but were driven out of business when payday lenders arrived. McCune Davis said they will come back.

For those who can't qualify, McCune Davis suggested relatives, friends and charities.

That presumes the lenders will go away.

Payday loans are illegal in Pennsylvania. But a company called SameDayPayday has set up shop in more than three dozen communities where it advertises that it can connect Pennsylvanians with out-of-state lenders who will wire the money to borrowers' checking accounts within an hour.

Other states that ban payday loans, though, have enacted separate laws also making Internet-based transactions illegal.

Arizona lenders face one other hurdle: time.

Any measure approved during the regular legislative session does not take effect until 90 days after the end of that session. With lawmakers at the Capitol until May - if not beyond - legislation reauthorizing the right of payday lenders to operate would not take effect until months after they were forced to shut down.

That leaves two options: Get the necessary two-thirds vote for an emergency, which could prove difficult given the recent public vote, or convince Brewer to call a special session to deal with the issue.

Calls to Brewer's office asking her feelings about the industry - and how she voted on the 2008 ballot measure - were not returned.

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