Recently, the term “predatory lending” has taken on a new meaning for me. I’ve always thought that predatory lenders were bad businesses. They plant themselves in low-income communities, offer fast cash, and then charge ridiculous interest rates, inevitably trapping people in a cycle of debt. Last Saturday, I joined in the Virginia Organizing Project’s door-to-door canvass effort in Fredericksburg to talk to folks about this issue. By the end of the afternoon, we had knocked on more than 2,000 doors in the area. But there was one door in particular that helped me to put a face on the issue.
It was the door of a young woman. She had taken out a car title loan for $450 just to make ends meet, and while she managed to make a payment each month, she could never get the loan entirely paid off. To make matters worse, the car used to make the loan recently broke down. It has been at the auto shop for a month because she has not been able to collect the $475 needed to fix the car. No car means no trips to the grocery store, no way to get to work, and no way to pay off the car title loan she took out in the first place! After she told me her story, her 6-month-old daughter came to the door wearing clothes for a 3-month-old baby. The young woman explained to me that she hasn’t been able to afford new clothes for her daughter or her young son.
I’ll never forget the conversation I had with this woman. She showed me that predatory lending institutions are not just burdens on your wallet — they can infiltrate all parts of your life. Predatory lenders are in the business of taking advantage of the most vulnerable members of our community. They hurt our community as a whole, and we must call on our legislators to make laws that regulate them!
– Column by Veronica Gutierrez