Monday, October 14

How to escape the payday debt trap

How to escape the payday debt trap
| By Gerri Detweiler,

Most storefront lenders will allow borrowers to enter into an extended payment plan, but the big danger is when people get burdened down with too many loans, creating a snowball effect.

"Is it possible to get ahead of the payday loans and get credit back in good standing?" That question was posed to us in a recent CreditExperts Twitter chat we hosted. If you've ever been stuck in the cycle of payday lending you may be wondering the same thing.

The answer depends in large part on where you took out the loan.

If you borrowed from a lender who is a member of the Consumer Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) then you may be in luck. CFSA's Best Practices guidelines allow a payday loan customer the option of entering into an extended payment plan. This gives you more time to repay the loan (usually four extra pay periods) without any additional fees or interest added for that service, and you won't be turned over to collections as long as you don't default. (Laws governing payday loans vary from state to state.)

To qualify, you must apply for the payment plan no later than the last business day before the loan is due, and you must sign a new agreement. If you took out your loan through a storefront location, you'll have to go back to that location to turn in your application. Amy Cantu, director of communications for CFSA, says that their association represents almost 9,000 storefront payday lenders in the U.S. "Some of our members do offer online loans, as well," she notes.

In some states, extended payment plans are mandated under state law.

If a payment plan isn't an option, you may want to talk with a credit counseling agency. While credit counseling agencies help consumers in debt all day long, these kinds of loans can present unique challenges. "It's not a traditional loan with set guidelines in terms of how they work with us," explains Thomas Fox, community outreach director for Cambridge Credit Counseling.

He says that lenders who are members of the CFSA "seem to be more lenient" and are "more apt to try to work with people." Those lenders will often "restructure to pay back (the balance) over 6-12 months when coming through our program." But he also adds that only applies in about 40 percent to 50 percent of the payday debt situations with which clients are dealing. With the rest, he said, their agency will do their best to assist. Sometimes that means negotiating settlement of the debt and sometimes it just means reducing payments on other debts or finding more money in the budget so the payday loan can be paid off.

But some consumers with these types of loans just get themselves deeper into debt.

Just 14 percent of payday loan borrowers can afford to repay the average payday loan, according to research by the Pew Charitable Trusts. In its report, How Borrowers Choose and Repay Payday Loans, it found that "the average borrower can afford to pay $50 per two weeks to a payday lender — similar to the fee for renewing a typical payday or bank deposit advance loan –but only 14 percent can afford the more than $400 needed to pay off the full amount of these non-amortizing loans."

It went on to warn that "administrative data show that 76 percent of loans are renewals or quick re-borrows while loan loss rates are only 3 percent." Fox agrees these loans may pile up when consumers fall behind. "We've seen people with five to seven payday loans from the original loan. It's loans stacked on top of a loan," he notes.

And that's also why for some borrowers the only other option to get out from under this kind of debt will be bankruptcy. "For the most part, payday loans aren't treated any differently in bankruptcy than any other unsecured loan," writes attorney Dana Wilkinson on the Bankruptcy Law Network blog.

Some consumers, however, have the mistaken impression that they can't include payday loans in their bankruptcy. Or they worry they will be charged with fraud or arrested if they can't pay one of these loans back or try to discharge them. One of the reasons that fear is so common is that payday loan debt collection scammers often make those kinds of threats, despite the fact that these actions are illegal.

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