San Francisco gets into payday lending

December 17, 2009 7:42:09 PM PST
This is the time of year when a lot of people are scrambling to come up with enough money to provide their children and loved ones with a happy holiday. Some turn to those payday lenders for quick cash for a high fee. But San Francisco is offering an alternative.

"When my mother died, I didn't have a way to get there," said Mark Laws.

Laws explained how he fell into a cycle of debt. First he borrowed money from one payday lender, and then took out a loan from another to pay that off.

These companies charge huge interest rates or fees for short-term emergency help until your next paycheck arrives.

"When you have nowhere to go, when you think you have nowhere else to go, you're willing to do whatever," he said.

A representative for 2000-plus payday lenders in California say it's a service their customers like.

"We are just one kind of short-term credit competition consumers can choose," said Greg Larsen from California Financial Service Providers.

City officials say the payday lenders are ubiquitous. According to Mayor Gavin Newsom, there are more of these companies than McDonald's and Starbucks combined.

Now San Francisco residents have another choice, unveiled on Thursday by the mayor and Treasurer Jose Cisneros. It's called Payday Plus SF and it's an option to what critics call the predatory practices of payday lenders.

"It's one thing to criticize these APRs that are as much as 400-500 percent, but if you don't have an alternative, it's unfair to criticize. So we are trying to offer an alternative," said Newsom.

The city is teaming up with six credit unions and their branches to offer loans of up to $500 with a maximum interest rate of 18 percent and a year to repay.

"It's an opportunity to extend that kind of credit to people who would otherwise not have access to quality rates," said Margaret Libby from Mission San Francisco Federal Credit.

Larsen said the industry welcomes the competition.

"We believe the more competition in the marketplace there is, the better," he said.

San Francisco hopes this new effort will lure some of those customers away.


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