Stephen Reeves, CBF’s Associate Coordinator for Partnerships and Advocacy, released the following statement in opposition to the Community Financial Services Association of America Annual Conference in Miami, Fla. The Community Financial Services Association of America is an association representing non-bank lenders who offer small-dollar credit products such as payday loans. CBF is a sponsoring organization of Faith for Just Lending, a coalition of faith-based institutions working to end predatory payday lending, as well as a member of the Faith and Credit Roundtable through the Center for Responsible Lending. After the release of the new payday loan rule by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in October 2017, CBF Advocacy released a summary of the final rule. That summary can be found here.
Members of the faith community have fought for years, if not decades, to put a stop to the predatory practices of payday and auto title lenders. We’ve worked on the local level, in state legislatures, and in Washington — in Congress and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Our churches and ministers have responded to the hurting among them with benevolence funds, alternative loan programs and financial education classes. But they’ve also lifted up the stories and voices of those so often ignored. Voices drowned out by armies of lobbyists and floods of campaign cash.
We stand together today calling on those elected to represent the people to act morally and not forget the most vulnerable among us. We’re here united across lines which too often divide. Motivated and persistent because we’ve seen the impact of irresponsible lenders. Our churches and pastors have seen first-hand what happens when struggling families are given products designed so that the more they fail, the more money the lender makes. What was sold as a lifeline in desperate times, instead becomes an anchor line dragging them down, drowning in debt. The result is not only more debt and a worse financial situation, but also shame, guilt, depression, broken families and even suicide. In the church we have a word for this sort of economic exploitation – its usury and it was wrong in the book of Exodus and it is wrong today. Our laws used to acknowledge this.
To offer a neighbor help in their time of need is right and charitable. But to deceive them and line your own pockets at their expense is immoral, unjust and wrong — no matter what man’s law now says. Morality is not determined by what the market will bear, or by the fine print of a contract signed in rushed desperation.
The industry that perpetuates this debt-trap lending, and the meeting in Miami today, is a picture of so much of what is wrong with our country. So-called “businessmen” who see hard working Americans not as those created in God’s image, not as neighbors, not even as fellow citizens worthy of respect, but instead as potential profit centers who, in their struggle, are ripe for the picking. They’re willing to use the billions taken from folks living paycheck to paycheck to perpetuate and expand their immoral & wildly profitable scam. They’ve got hundreds of lawyers, lobbyists and bought-off politicians — all too willing to oblige as long as the contributions keep flowing. Sadly this is a bipartisan affair.
Unfortunately, their investments are paying off. That’s certainly so here in Florida but also in D.C., where the one agency created, structured and charged with protecting consumers has suddenly become the payday lender’s best friend. The CFPB is now slowing the implementation of their payday rule, dropping lawsuits and altogether halting the enforcement of laws already on the books. This includes ending the pursuit of one online lender charging 900% APR.
Predatory lenders are here today likely talking about regulatory uncertainty, customer retention and developing brand loyalty. What they’re looking for are loopholes to evade laws meant to restrain their greed, and new products to create a tighter and deeper trap.
When people say our politics are broken, that our system is rigged and that the government doesn’t care about them, this is what they mean. We’re here today to call on our lawmakers and our fellow citizens to respond. I believe we’re a better country than this, but we have to stand up and act like it. I believe our democracy is powerful enough to correct the worst abuses of unrestrained capitalism, but only if we work together.
Lenders may be here today living it up in luxury and celebrating a victory. I assure you it is only temporary. We know how the story really ends and the ultimate victory does not belong to those who exploit and abuse the poor and vulnerable. I believe that working together we can make this country look a little more like that Kingdom that is to come. Sometimes we’re called to get angry at injustice and flip over tables. Today, it’s our duty as people of faith to do just that.