Alabama Episcopalians join fight against predatory loans

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Congregants within Alabama’s Episcopal churches — including members of the clergy — are joining hands with consumer advocates to stop “loan sharking,” or the practice of deriving excessive profits from so-called predatory loans.

A group of demonstrators against the excesses of the money-changers of Biblical lore gathered in Birmingham earlier this month to draw public attention to a problem that’s as old as time, but which has been revisited by the Legislature and state Supreme Court in 2015.

Alabama’s high court dealt a blow to “payday” lenders when they said the state’s Banking Department can track recipients of the high-interest, short-term loans in order to enforce a current $500 limit currently codified in state law. That move was a victory for state regulators, who sought the court’s approval for the move.

“It was great. Hallelujah,” said Rep. Patricia Todd of Birmingham after the ruling — again invoking the sacred, a recurring theme when it comes to predatory loans.

President Barack Obama took on the issue when he visited Lawson State Community College in Birmingham this year. He noted that payday lenders outnumber McDonald’s locations by a 4 to 1 ratio in Alabama, and that the controversial practice contributes to generational cycles of poverty and debt.

Borrow Smart Alabama is a pro-lender group that emerged this year in opposition to bills circulating in the Legislature that would limit the number and size of payday loans. They argue they are regulated enough already and that proposed changes wouldn’t affect online lenders or those who operate on Native American reservations, a common practice in the state.

Whether the short-term loans industry or Episcopalian ministers — who recently used TV’s “Shark Week” as a jumping-off point for debate on the subject — remains to be seen as the Legislature convenes this month to finalize a budget.

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