A new Utah loan practice that puts some borrowers in jail is so bad that even payday lenders oppose it

(Courtesy of Kim Raff for ProPublica) Jessica Albritton, at home with her kids in Ogden, on Oct. 15, 2019, has been arrested on bench warrants after missing payment for a loan she received from Loans for Less.

Perhaps a sign that a loan practice is truly predatory is when even the state’s payday loan industry — often criticized for charging more than 500% annual interest — opposes it.

That happened Tuesday when payday lenders supported a bill that seeks to stop one high-interest lender in Utah that found a way to jail some borrowers who default on loans, and then seize their bail money.

“That is not a practice we agree with,” Wendy Gibson, spokeswoman for the payday loan industry’s Utah Consumer Lending Association, told the House Business and Labor Committee on Tuesday.

The committee agreed and voted 11-0 to advance HB319 to ban that practice to the full House for consideration.

Rep. Brad Daw — who for years has battled high-interest lenders in Utah — says he was flabbergasted when he read about the latest practice, and introduced the bill to halt it.

ProPublica last year reported how Loans for Less — which offers auto title and installment loans at triple-digit annual interest rates — obtained warrants against people it was suing for nonpayment of loans.

The borrowers technically were jailed for not responding to a court summons requested by the lender, since it is against the law to jail someone because of an unpaid debt and Congress has banned debtors prisons since 1833.

Still, constables appeared and threatened arrest if people could not come up with hundreds of dollars in bail. ProPublica found at least 17 cases in which Utahns had, in fact, been jailed — anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.

In 2014, state legislators passed a law that made it possible for creditors to get access to bail money posted in civil cases.

Daw’s bill would repeal that.

The new bill also proposes other changes in laws that regulate high-interest lenders.

Daw said one would close a loophole that some payday lenders use to avoid a requirement that they stop charging interest on their loans after 10 weeks, and to offer a no-interest extended repayment plan. They evade that by offering signature loans instead.

Daw also wants to lengthen from 10 days to 30 days a required window between notifying borrowers and taking them to court.

Finally, the bill would require the state to collect much more data annually about payday and other high-interest lenders. That includes how many loans that payday lenders make, the total dollar amount loaned, the number of borrowers who extended loans and the percentage of loans that are not repaid.

Gibson, with the payday loan industry, said, “We’ve been working hard with Representative Daw since November to develop legislation to solve real and potential problems by providing additional consumer safeguards.” She praised the resulting bill.