Lenders transferring loans to avoid new regulations

EL PASO, Texas - A national title loan company is allegedly transferring some of its loans outside El Paso city limits in order to avoid new city payday and title loan restrictions and charge higher interest rates to customers in the Borderland.

ABC-7 spoke with a man who has direct knowledge of this situation -- an employee at a TitleMax store in El Paso. He said the company is transferring larger TitleMax loans outside the city to continue charging rates city council outlawed.

"Either we physically escort them or somebody comes and escorts them to explain to them the new loan and new contract," said the employee, who asked not to be identified.

He added that the company is transferring loans out to its Canutillo or Socorro lenders in order to escape new city regulations that went into effect in January. Those regulations limit payday loans to 20 percent of the borrowers gross month income and title loans to either three percent of the borrowers gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle's value. The new ordinance also limits the number of installments to four and roll-overs and renewals to three.

"The interest rate is really low here in El Paso," the employee said. "Outside, in the outskirts, you're looking at an almost 200 percent interest rate. This just allows them to recoup the money they have lost already because of the city ordinance. This to me is morally wrong. We do supply help for people that are in need with no credit, but at the same time I do feel that this is morally wrong changing the interest rates and forcing them to go outside on a satellite store."

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said she is aware of the allegations.

"Anytime you take out a loan, you need to read the documents real carefully," Bernal said. "We've gotten some initial complaints from some folks that feel like it wasn't fair for their loan to have been transferred. The County Attorney's office is looking into this issue right now to see whether or not transferring a loan outside to the county in order to avoid city regulations might be a civil or a criminal violation the County Attorney's office might have jurisdiction over."

Bernal added while it may be legal, it's a questionable and possibly unethical practice when loans are transferred without the borrowers understanding or knowledge of the terms. Again, she stressed, read loan documents carefully and refuse to have a loan transferred if possible.

ABC-7 reached out to TitleMax locally and nationally for comment but did not hear back from them by deadline.

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