Payday loans bill moves forward with more consumer safeguards

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Is imperfect legislation better than none at all?

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, keeps making that case regarding new regulations on payday and auto-title loans. And by continuing to refine proposals, he's moved SB1247 a step closer to becoming law.

The Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Tuesday night approved the third version Carona has offered of the bill. It included provisions that consumer protection groups have advocated to help low-income people who rely on the loans avoid descending into an inescapable cycle of debt.

Among other things, the legislation aims to specify four types of loans that payday and auto-title companies can offer, limit loan amounts to a percentage of borrowers' monthly income and restrict how often consumers can get and refinance the loans.

A second draft of the legislation eased the restrictions included in the original, drawing criticism from consumer groups, and there was some sentiment that timid regulation was worse than none at all.

Efforts to adopt strict controls in 2011 met with fierce resistance from the proliferating industry, whose proponents say it assists customers who need quick cash but can't qualify for bank loans.

But some regulations did pass, and current law requires short-term lenders to be licensed and make information clear to customers.

Still, the companies can sell virtually any kind of loan, and borrowers can refinance as often as they want. That can drive interest payments far beyond the relatively small amounts owed and trap poor families into repayment nightmares.

Cities including Dallas and San Antonio have adopted limits on the loan businesses, but they've been challenged in court and new state regulations would take precedence.

Carona told his committee colleagues Tuesday that the latest version was "the only version of this that will pass this session."

The bill, passed by the committee on a 6-1 vote, would allow only two types of payday loans and two types of auto-title loans. Loans would be limited to 20-30 percent of a borrower's monthly income. Single-payment payday loans could be refinanced four times, and single-payment auto loans could be refinanced six times.

The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner, which regulates the Texas credit industry, estimated that just limiting refinancing could reduce the charges borrowers pay by $132 million to $221 million per year.

That alone would represent progress.

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