"Pay day" loans exacerbate U.S. housing crisis

Wed Mar 25, 2009 5:48pm EDT
 
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By Nick Carey

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - As hundreds of thousands of American home owners fall behind on their mortgage payments, more people are turning to short-term loans with sky-high interest rates just to get by.

While figures are hard to come by, evidence from nonprofit credit and mortgage counselors suggests that the number of people using these so-called "pay day loans" is growing as the U.S. housing crisis deepens, a negative sign for economic recovery.

"We're hearing from around the country that many folks are buried deep in pay day loan debts as well as struggling with their mortgage payments," said Uriah King, a policy associate at the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL).

A pay day loan is typically for a few hundred dollars, with a term of two weeks, and an interest rate as high as 800 percent. The average borrower ends up paying back $793 for a $325 loan, according to the Center.

The Center also estimates pay day lenders issued more than $28 billion in loans in 2005, the latest available figures.

In the Union Miles district of Cleveland, which has been hit hard by the housing crisis, all the conventional banks have been replaced by pay day lenders with brightly painted signs offering instant cash for a week or two to poor families.

"When distressed home owners come to us it usually takes a while before we find out if they have pay day loans because they don't mention it at first," said Lindsey Sacher, community relations coordinator at nonprofit East Side Organizing Project on a recent tour of the district. "But by the time they come to us for help, they have nothing left."

The loans on offer have an Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of up to 391 percent -- excluding fees and penalties. All you need for a loan like this is proof of regular income, even government benefits will do.   Continued...

 
<p>The sign for a foreclosed house for sale sits at the property in Denver, Colorado March 4, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking</p>