Council passes new Payday and Title Loan ordinance

POSTED: 12:41 PM MST Jan 23, 2013    UPDATED: 05:19 PM MST Jan 23, 2013 

     Payday and title loan businesses in El Paso, which offer short-term, high-interest loans, will now have to follow new rules.

     City council passed an ordinance Tuesday that will change the way they do business starting this summer.

     The concern is that those types of businesses contribute to the cycle of poverty, leaving some falling behind on payments and in holes that are sometimes impossible to dig themselves out of.

      "We want their money. We want their capital. We just want them to be fair," said Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen. "That's all there is to it."

     Allen came to El Paso to speak in favor of an ordinance to set new rules for payday and title loan lenders, one similar to the one already approved in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

     "It's very, very, very important that we send this message as cities that we will no longer stand aside and watch our people being taken advantage of," Allen told Council.

     Here are the new rules:
     -The new ordinance will limit payday loans to 20-percent of the borrower's monthly income
     -Limit auto title loans to 3-percent of their annual income ...
     -Or 70-percent of the value of the vehicle, whichever is lower.
     -Require lenders to register with the city ...
     -Limit the number of installments to four and rollovers to three ...
     -Require lenders to provide financial counseling to borrowers.

     "We're here to defend ourselves from the slanderous words," said Benny's Pawn Shop owner Saul Frank. "People are telling us we are predatory lenders, that we loan to the poor."

     The debate lasted nearly three hours and featured passionate arguments on both sides.

     "For better lack of words, it's almost like a drug dealer," one concerned citizen said. "These people need to maintain these loans just to be straight, just to be normal."

     "The cities do not need to bother with the ordinance," said Mike Brown, who came to speak out against the ordinance. "This is a matter that should be left to be handled at the state level."

     Even a local priest chimed in, telling stories of members of his church falling into deep debt with payday and title loans.

     "I don't know about these payday loan lenders," said Father Pablo Mata. "I don't know about their ethics. So I really question them."

     "Everyone talks about the fact we're predatory and we're taking advantage of these customers when they come in," said John Bloss of FastBucks. "You take that away, where they gonna go? Is the church going to pay when they are in need? Are you going to pay out of your own pocket?"

     Only city representatives Eddie Holguin and Carl Robinson voted against the new ordinance. Both were concerned that the city could be sued.

     The first payday loan lawsuit has already been filed here in El Paso by community activist Carl Starr.