State AGs Slam Congress’ Attempts to Gut Predatory-Lending Laws

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Suzanne Potter
California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Attorneys General from 20 states, including California’s Xavier Becerra, have signed a letter to Congress, slamming two bills that would gut current state laws meant to protect people from predatory lenders.

HR 3299 and HR 4439 would clear the way for payday lenders to evade state usury laws and make loans with triple-digit interest rates, by making deals to operate under a bank’s charter. Diane Standaert, executive vice president and director of state policy with the Center for Responsible Lending, called it a “rent-a-bank” scheme that would void any state consumer-protection laws that cap interest rates.

“The reality is that their passage would open the floodgates to predatory lending, with annual interest rates of 100-400 percent,” Standaert said; “even in states where they’re currently not allowed.”

One of the bills has already passed the House. Supporters claim they would improve access to credit for low-income families and promote innovation in the financial sector. Opponents say ultra-high-interest loans only trap people in a cycle of worsening debt.

Standaert said California has weak usury laws that cap interest rates on loans under $300 but allow them to be rolled over into multiple loans that end up costing the borrower big-time if they are unable to pay off the initial loan. A bill to cap interest rates on car-title loans has passed the California Assembly and awaits a vote in the state Senate.

Standaert said Congress could supersede any such effort.

“This bill would essentially eviscerate California’s ability to ever take action to rein in the cost of these really high-cost predatory loans,” she said.

Recent efforts to strengthen the California usury laws have foundered. Assembly Bill 2500, which would have capped interest rates on some loans at 36 percent, failed in the state Assembly about a month ago.