In June 2008, consumer advocates celebrated when former Governor Strickland signed the Short- Term Loan Act. The Act capped annual interest rates on payday loans at 28%. It also provided for several other protections on the use of payday loans. Consumers had another victory in November 2008. Ohio voters upheld this new law by a landslide vote. However, these victories were short-lived. The payday loan industry quickly came up with ways to get around the new law and continues to operate in a predatory way. Today, four years after the Short-Term Loan Act passed, payday lenders continue to avoid the law.
Payday loans in Ohio are usually small, short-term loans where the borrower gives a personal check to the lender payable in two to four weeks, or allows the lender to electronically debit the borrower"s checking account at some point in the next few weeks. Since many borrowers do not have the funds to pay off the loan when it is due, they take out new loans to cover their earlier ones. They now owe even more fees and interest. This process traps borrowers in a cycle of debt that they can spend years trying to escape. Under the 1995 law that created payday loans in Ohio, lenders could charge an annual percentage rate (APR) of up to 391%. The 2008 law was supposed to address the worst terms of payday loans. It capped the APR at 28% and limited borrowers to four loans per year. Each loan had to last at least 31 days.
When the Short-Term Loan Act became law, many payday lenders predicted that following the new law would put them out of business. As a result, lenders did not change their loans to fit the new rules. Instead, the lenders found ways to get around the Short-Term Loan Act. They either got licenses to offer loans under the Ohio Small Loan Act or the Ohio Mortgage Loan Act. Neither of these acts was meant to regulate short-term loans like payday loans. These two laws allow for fees and loan terms that are specifically not allowed under the Short-Term Loan Act. For example, under the Small Loan Act, APRs for payday loans can reach as high as 423%. Using the Mortgage Loan Act pokies online for payday loans can result in APRs as high as 680%.
Payday lending under the Small Loan Act and Mortgage Loan Act is happening all around the state. The Ohio Department of Commerce 2010 Annual Report shows the most recent breakdown of license numbers. There were 510 Small Loan Act licensees and 1,555 Mortgage Loan Act registrants in Ohio in 2010. Those numbers are up from 50 Small Loan Act licensees and 1,175 Mortgage Loan Act registrants in 2008. On the other hand, there were zero Short-Term Loan Act registrants in 2010. This means that all the payday lenders currently operating in Ohio are doing business under other laws and can charge higher interest and fees. No payday lenders are operating under the new Short-Term Loan Act. The law specifically designed to protect consumers from abusive terms is not being used. These are troubling numbers for consumers in need of a small, short-term loan with fair terms.
As of right now, there are no new laws being considered in the Ohio General Assembly that would close these loopholes and solve the problems with the 2008 law. The payday loan industry has avoided the Short-Term Loan Act for four years, and it does not look like this problem will be resolved soon. As a result, it is important for consumers to remain cautious about payday loan stores and, where possible, borrow from places other than payday lenders.
This FAQ was written by Katherine Hollingsworth, Esq. and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 2 of "The Alert" - a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.