On Victory Drive, Soldiers Defeated by Debt

A shop window advertising payday loans.

By Paul Kiel and Mitchell Hartman

Seven years after Congress banned payday-loan companies from charging exorbitant interest rates to service members, many of the nation’s military bases are surrounded by storefront lenders who charge high annual percentage rates, sometimes exceeding 400 percent.

The Military Lending Act sought to protect service members and their families from predatory loans. But in practice, the law has defined the types of covered loans so narrowly that it’s been all too easy for lenders to circumvent it.

“We have to revisit this,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee and is the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat. “If we’re serious about protecting military families from exploitation, this law has to be a lot tighter.”

Members of the military can lose their security clearances for falling into debt. As a result, experts say, service members often avoid taking financial problems to their superior officers and instead resort to high-cost loans they don’t fully understand.

The Department of Defense, which defines which loans the Military Lending Act covers, has begun a process to review the law, said Marcus Beauregard, chief of the Pentagon’s state liaison office.

The act mainly targets two products: payday loans, usually two-week loans with annual percentage rates often above 400 percent, and auto-title loans, typically one-month loans with rates above 100 percent and secured by the borrower’s vehicle. The law caps all covered loans at a 36 percent annual rate.

That limit “did do a great deal of good on the products that it covered,” Holly Petraeus, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s head of service member affairs, said in an interview. “But there are a lot of products that it doesn’t cover.”

Representatives from payday and other high-cost lenders said they follow the law. Some defended the proliferation of new products as helpful to consumers.

Read More On Victory Drive, Soldiers Defeated by Debt – ProPublica.

About The Soul Brother

An observer to the world. I have a unique view of the world and want to share it. It's all in love from the people of the "blues". Love, Knowledge, and Sharing amongst all is the first steps towards solving all the problems amongst humanity.
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