Thanks to the kindness of strangers, Jamela Lott can keep her car, along with a little extra money, maybe to get into her own apartment.
Lott was the woman featured in Sunday’s Taking Action column. I shared her story of going to an auto-title lender, which consumer advocates say can be worse than payday loans because the consumer offers up a car’s title as collateral for a small loan.
A homeless mother of five with three minor children, Lott agreed to share her story to try to help others avoid her mistake. She was facing repossession of her 2001 Oldsmobile Alero after she couldn’t afford the $1,500 owed on the car for her original $900 loan.
The same day the story published, an Akron woman emailed to tell me that she wanted to help. When I phoned her Monday, she said she wanted to pay for Lott’s bill to Loan Max but wanted to remain anonymous.
“We’re very blessed, and God has done a lot of great things in our family, and we’re able to do that and I would like to pay it forward,” the woman said. “I don’t want her to know I did it. I just want her to be successful and get on her feet and do the right thing, and I don’t want her to get back in this situation.
“She has an opportunity to better herself, and this is just a small gesture so she doesn’t have to worry about it.”
The donor said everyone makes “bad decisions that come back to bite us. If she can learn from this, that’s my goal.”
She was not alone in her generosity. Another caller, a man, said he wanted to offer $100 because he had also been blessed, and whenever his prayers are answered, he looks to make a donation to help someone out.
Erica Ward, Lott’s case worker at Family Promise of Summit County, which provides temporary shelter to homeless families and offers other assistance, also received a call from a single mother who offered to pay Lott’s car balance. When Ward told the woman that the wheels already were in motion with another generous donor, the woman said she still would send $500 to help Lott.
The woman told Ward, “I’m just a single mom who has been blessed, and I want to help someone else.”
Ward said the extra funds would be used to help Lott save $900 for the first month’s rent and a security deposit for an apartment.
Lott, who returned my phone call Monday on a break from work, was in tears with the news that her loan had been paid off.
“I’m just crying. I wasn’t doing the story for me. It’s just overwhelming,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for any results, but I really wanted to help people because it’s a terrible loan, especially for people who don’t really know.”
Lott said to thank her anonymous donors and said she promised she would not make the same mistake.
“I’ll make sure I don’t ever do that again,” she said.
No other option
What happens next is a little unclear. After Ward and I went to the storefront in Akron to pay off the loan and received a receipt, Ward received a phone call from a woman who said she was with Loan Max’s corporate office.
She told Ward that Loan Max would not be depositing the money received for Lott’s loan because the company had wanted to write off the loan. The woman also told Ward that whoever told her recently that there were no other options other than repayment or repossession of the car would face disciplinary action.
Pat Crowley, spokesperson for the Ohio Consumer Lenders Association, an industry trade group with payday and auto-title lender members, on Monday said he was seeking more answers from Loan Max.
Ward and Family Promise Director Jeffrey Wilhite said if Loan Max does follow through and forgives Lott’s loan, they would seek to return the funds to the anonymous donor.
Wilhite said the generosity of people in the community continually blows him away.
“Here’s a young lady who did everything right, has worked as hard as she can with the limited resources she had and she had everything turned around. One decision threw her into a skid,” he said.
Wilhite said that besides housing, the next biggest roadblock for avoiding homelessness is the lack of transportation to get to a job. He said he hopes to take Lott’s story to garner support from legislators to close the loopholes that consumer advocates say allow auto-title lenders to operate in Ohio.
I also received a phone call from Duane Hughey, who shared that he did have his car repossessed by Loan Max after six months of not being able to pay. His original $1,200 loan ballooned to more than $4,000 after the car was repossessed in September. But Hughey said to add salt to the wound, he was told he had to pay $45 to get the possessions out of his car, including some tools and his disability papers.
He didn’t have the money at the time and said he knows the car now is gone.
Crowley said he would try to get information about Hughey’s case.