By Anyra Cano-Valencia
(Adapted from a piece that originally appeared in Christianity Today.)
In the Spring of 2013, my husband, Pastor Carlos Valencia, and I had just finished dinner when we got one of those heart wrenching visits at home, where a church member or neighbor appears broken and suffering. Mrs. Mendoza (not her real name) was desperate, defeated, and ashamed. She didn’t know who to turn to other than her pastor, someone she trusted.
In tears, she said was responsible for her family losing their home, and she was about to lose her car: She was too frightened to tell her husband. We were shocked, confused, and angry. How could this good, hard-working family lose their home?
Mrs. Mendoza had fallen behind when a few bills were higher than usual. She got tired of asking friends for help. She remembered seeing big signs and commercials for payday and auto-title loans, claiming they could help. When she visited one, she learned that a small loan seemed so easy. All she needed was a pay stub to verify employment and a checking account to automatically withdraw her payment. Mrs. Mendoza walked out with a $300 loan that would cost her “only” $75, to be paid off within two weeks.
that quick transaction turned into a horrifying journey, a never-ending debt-trap. Two weeks later, she had to extend that initial loan and pay another $75. Eventually she had to take out one loan after another to pay off the interest and fees she owed, which accumulated every two weeks.
She was so overwhelmed by her debt, and harassed and threatened by their collectors, she saw no other answer to than to use money intended to pay her mortgage. This cycle went on for several years, and she ended up paying over $10,000 for a loan that began at $300.
My husband and I scrambled to call banks, lawyers, and anyone we thought could help save this family’s house. Unfortunately, we were too late. The home had been foreclosed on and sold, and now she was about to lose her car, which she needed to get to work every day. We decided to go with her to the store to see if we could help, but there was nothing to be done. The lender that offered her help in her time of need set her up to fail.
We loaned her the money to pay off that last loan once and for all, but we left terrified and hopeless at the thought that these businesses dress themselves as sheep claiming to help, and instead are wolves ready to devour their prey.
The Bible calls this usury, a sin for charging exaggerated interest for loans. It speaks strongly against it: “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court” (Proverbs 22:22, NIV). God’s word calls us to speak up against injustices like these.
By doing so, you and your church can join thousands of Christians nationwide lending their voice against these wolves called payday loans. Recently, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) released proposed rules that would better protect consumers against these wolves. A coalition made up of several Christian organizations, Faith for Just Lending, has come together in support of better laws, to fight for just and fair lending (www.lendjustly.com). Now, more than ever, we need people of faith and community leaders to raise our voices in support of better regulations.
Here are some practical ways you advocate for better protection:
Visit www.lendjustly.com to
share a story,
endorse the principles and
make a comment to the CFPB in support of a strong rule.
Watch a new documentary about the issue, “The Ordinance,” to learn how you can organize your community against predatory lending.