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The New Media Department of The Post and Courier
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2006 7:57 AM

Is it possible the AARP has an agenda other than to do good?  Exactly who are they looking out for with their high high interest credit card and over the limit charges? Ummmm.......  Read on.

Payday loans attacked, defended
National lender, AARP square off in debate at Citadel

The Post and Courier

There were no fights, no shouting and no need for the police.

But at a Charleston town hall-style meeting on the merits of payday loans, a powerful lobbying group's message was loud and clear: Payday lending is a predatory practice and the laws should be changed to protect consumers, according to the AARP.

But the nation's largest payday lender, given far less time than its opponents to speak, said its cash advances provide a valuable service for people who need help between paychecks.

Both sides agree that the short-term loans help keep the lights on for some borrowers and put presents under the tree at Christmas. But while getting a cash advance is easy, paying it back two weeks later is more difficult, consumer advocates say.

"For folks on a limited income, there isn't going to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to pay these loans," said Teresa Arnold, legislative director for AARP in South Carolina.

The group has been sponsoring payday forums around the state, including a recent boisterous debate in Columbia. One speaker at the Midlands event who owns 11 payday lending and check-cashing stores spoke beyond his allotted time and provoked threats to call the police.

Although this week's gathering was less eventful, around 50 local residents heard consumer advocates call for legislators to impose tighter regulations on the industry.

AARP, a powerful national lobbying group for the increasingly influential 50-and-older crowd, says borrowers should be limited to one loan at a time and be subject to a 24-hour cooling-off period before returning to the till.

The group also supports a monitoring system similar to Florida's, in which payday transactions are entered into a statewide database to ensure borrowers aren't carrying multiple loans.

The industry has grown so large it's time for tighter restrictions, AARP officials said.

Payday loans are widely available. Consumers can borrow up to $300 by writing a check from their account to the lender. The check is held until the customer's next payday, typically two weeks.

The charge can be up to $15 for every $100 borrowed, which translates to an annualized interest rate of around 400 percent. That means a person who borrows $300 owes $345 two weeks later. If they can't pay the debt, they can pay $45 and take a new loan to cover the rest.

In 2000, licensed payday lenders issued 2.6 million loans in South Carolina and charged $91 million in fees, according to the Appleseed Legal Justice Center, a Columbia-based advocacy group for the poor. During fiscal year 2004, the most recent data available, the figure jumped to 4.3 million loans and fees of $153 million.

The nation's largest cash advance business is headquartered in the Upstate. Spartanburg-based Advance America is banned from offering payday loans in some neighboring states. But in South Carolina, it's a high-profile, publicly traded business with national advertising campaigns and offices in busy retail areas.

Advance America was the only payday lender that came to speak at the AARP forum, which was held at The Citadel.

Jamie Fulmer, director of investor relations, said in an interview that the company's target demographic is the hard-working middle class.

As for fees, Fulmer said, the charges are comparable to what banks charge for bounced checks. If a $150 check is returned, the bank's fee is likely to be around $32, he said, plus another $25 return fee from the merchant. He noted that AARP charges a $29 fee for late payments on its credit cards.

Those compare to the $22.50 flat fee Advance America charges on a $150 loan.

"Plus, it doesn't have any negative credit consequences, because it doesn't show up on your credit report," Fulmer said.

He also dismissed allegations that the company preys on lower-income families. The typical Advance America customer is 39 years old and has a median household income of $41,000, he said. About 45 percent own their homes, Fulmer said.

Also, the company is not a hole-in-the-wall loan shark, Fulmer said. Rather, it positions its stores in high-traffic areas such as strip malls, or close to retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart. Posters on the walls of all locations clearly state how much loans cost, he said.

"There are no hidden fees with our product," Fulmer said.

As of June 30, Advance America had 2,670 cash advance centers in 36 states.

Reach Peter Hull at 937-5594 or

This article was printed via the web on 10/15/2006 12:03:25 PM . This article
appeared in The Post and Courier and updated online at on Saturday, October 14, 2006