A single paragraph in the middle of a lengthy column in last Sunday’s Beacon Journal jumped out at plenty of readers.
The column focused on Connie Moore, a low-income Akron woman who was forced to move out of her subsidized apartment because she couldn’t get anyone in authority to take action against a fellow tenant who had stalked her for more than a year.
“To pay the movers,” I wrote, “Moore took out a six-month loan for $410. Annual percentage rate: 270.74 percent.”
That information generated two very different types of emotional reaction.
The first: sympathy.
Imagine being in a position where you’d have to take out a loan for a lousy 400 bucks — and pay an absolutely outrageous interest rate to get it.
I received 17 emails and seven phone calls from readers offering to pay part or all of her moving expenses. Those folks simply wanted to help; many said they didn’t want their names publicized.
“Your story about the woman moving due to continuous stalking was heartbreaking,” wrote one man. “... Is there a way to pay off the loan without the interest? I am willing to do this for her.”
One of the emails came from two time-zones away:
“Is there a place I can send a money order to help her pay her moving expenses? I live in New Mexico and read this story. I am sure [a donation] would help her make a fresh start.”
The fact that Connie Moore declined all offers of financial assistance speaks volumes.
“I’m overwhelmed that strangers want to help me,” she said, “but I just wouldn’t feel right taking the money.
“I didn’t tell my story to make it profitable. ...
“But please pass along my appreciation.”
Moore has already made the first of her six monthly payments: $145.99.
Which leads us to the second emotion expressed by readers: anger.
“I hate those payday loan places,” wrote one. “They just take advantage of the poor or people who are desperate.”
Wrote another: “Whatever happened to laws prohibiting ‘loan-sharking?’ ”
Excellent question. Even the mob doesn’t charge that kind of interest.
Believe it or not, Moore shopped around. Her first stop was a place where you can take out a short-term loan using your car title as collateral.
“It was the same interest rate,” she reported, “but you only had 60 days to repay it.”
She then headed to a Check ’n Go on Buchholzer Boulevard near Chapel Hill Mall.
“There was a big line when I went to pay, mostly older people,” Moore said. “It’s a huge business.”
The company that made the loan is NCP Finance Ohio LCC, based in Dayton. It is one of a seemingly infinite number of operations that exploit people who have few other options — short of crime.
Unfortunately, this sleazy practice remains legal in Ohio.
State lawmakers must feel as if they’re playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. When they tried to outlaw this type of gouging, the gougers managed to wriggle out of the prohibition and pop up elsewhere within the Ohio Revised Code.
Passage of the Short-Term Loan Act a few years ago sent the lenders to two other sets of lending-law rules, where they continue to hide and thrive.
The Commerce Department, which regulates this sort of thing, needs more ammunition, and the Legislature is the only group that can supply it.
But even if that comes to pass, victory might be only partial.
When some states were able to close down their brick-and-mortar payday loan operations, the lenders turned to the Internet, where they continue to sail right along.
That development brought about another pitfall for desperate folks: phony loan websites set up to steal names, Social Security numbers and bank information.
Just because these slimeballs are elusive doesn’t mean we should quit trying to shut them down.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.