by Dana Sweeney, Organizer
If you start asking around for people’s opinions of payday lending in Alabama, the responses will almost all follow along the same lines: that payday lenders are legalized loan sharks, that 456% APR interest rates are usury, that these shameless lenders prey upon and abuse the poorest Alabamians to make a buck. While conducting such a casual poll would quickly reveal the low opinion most Alabamians have of the payday industry, Alabamians who believe in responsible lending were recently bolstered by a new scientific poll published on the subject. It turns out that Alabamians really do not like payday lending, and we like it less every year.
As part of their annual, statewide public opinion survey, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) found that 84.1% of Alabamians believe payday loans should be restricted or banned in our state — a dramatic increase of 24.1% from last year’s results, which were already high. PARCA also found that fewer and fewer Alabamians accept the payday lending status quo. This year, fewer than 1 in 10 Alabamians thought payday loans are acceptable as they are currently issued.
Payday lending has been unpopular in Alabama for years, but the last year has seen a sea change in public opinion on the issue. Alabamians favoring payday reform have become an overwhelming, bipartisan majority. In fact, at this point, an outright majority of Alabamians (52.6%) would like to simply see the industry banned entirely. About 80% of Alabamians believe that borrowers should be protected from high interest rates and debt traps even if it means reducing the profitability of payday lending businesses.
When considering what reforms would be sensible, Alabama voters are in near lockstep: Almost three-quarters of Alabamians believe that we should have a 36% APR rate cap, and about the same number think that payday lenders should be required to issue loans on a 30-day repayment schedule. The latter of these reforms, which enjoys the highest level of support among all options, passed the Senate last year as the 30 Days to Pay bill. It would better position borrowers to gather their finances and repay the loan on time, cut the APR interest rate in half for many borrowers, reduce the number of Alabamians who fall into the debt trap, and place payday loan bills on the same monthly payment schedule as virtually all other household bills. Advocates across the state — including Alabama Appleseed — hope to see the legislature revisit this popular reform in the upcoming session.
Payday lending reform is stratospherically popular among Alabama voters, and it is desperately needed for Alabama borrowers. It is past time for our legislators to listen to their constituents and do the right thing by passing payday lending reform. We will see them at the statehouse and in their districts to ensure that legislators place their constituents over this predatory industry.
For more information about PARCA’s findings, feel free to check out the report for yourself.