Iowa: Catholics and evangelicals unite to put payday loans on agenda

Evangelicals and Catholics have united in an effort to put payday lending on the agenda ahead of the Iowa caucus, according to the Catholic News Service.


Payday loans are a form of short-term borrowing in which individuals borrow a small amount at a very high rate of interest.

The Iowa caucus is scheduled for February 1. The result, although only representing around one per cent of the nation's delegates,is seen as an early indication of who will become the Republican candidate.

Iowa's Bishop's Conference and an Iowa-based evangelical organisation, the Family Leader Awareness Network, commissioned a poll on Republicans' opinion of payday lending.

The survey found that while 60 per cent of Republicans opposed payday lending, that number rose significantly to 82 per cent when they were informed about the typical interest on such a loan (268 per cent). Eighty-seven per cent of religious conservatives were opposed to the practice once informed of this interest rate.

The cross-denominational coallition is seeking to bring payday lending into the conversation surrounding the Iowa caucus, which begins the formal process of picking the Republican presidential candidate.

"This is something the Iowa Catholic Conference has been working on for many, many years," Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference told the Catholic News Service. Progress has been made on the issue at a legislative level and has also been brought to the attention of the Republican candidates, he said.

The evangelical influence in Iowa is significant, and Republican candidates are keen to attract the Christian vote as more than half the electorate describe themselves as born-again Christians.

A bill regarding the issue passed the Iowa lower chamber's Commerce Committee last year. The bill would require lenders to judge the applicant's ability to repay the loan and for caps to be set on the number of loans an individual borrower might take in a year.

Other findings in the poll showed 78 per cent of Republicans supported payday lenders having to determine whether a borrower can repay before agreeing the loan, and 74 per cent supported setting a limit on interest rates of 36 per cent.

The bill has returned to the committee as the full House did not vote on it.

Community groups in the state have shared the faith groups' desire to scale back payday lending.

"Families in Iowa are currently being destroyed by predatory lending practices. Unbelievable interest rates cause people to make the choice of paying on a loan that they probably can never repay instead of paying for housing and food for their families," said Jan Henryson, director of the Center for Financial Education in Sioux Center, Iowa.

"These practices need to be eliminated immediately to preserve Iowa families and protect our children."