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Lawmakers advanced a package of somewhat tighter regulations for the high-interest payday-loan industry Tuesday, but it was watered down from much more sweeping reforms originally proposed.
The House Business and Labor Committee voted 13-1 to advance HB292 to the full House. Its sponsor, Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said it represents compromises worked out with payday lenders to move some reforms forward after a more sweeping bill was defeated last year and had faced significant opposition this year.
The bill's provisions now include:
• For first-time borrowers, payday lenders must check their ability to repay through commercial credit databases that include "subprime" loans such as payday lending.
• All lenders must report their loans to that database, which would help show if a borrower already has one or more payday loans outstanding.
• Before payday lenders sue borrowers for nonpayment, they must offer in writing an interest-free loan extension of 60 to 90 days. "They can charge them a little bit upfront," Daws said, "but they can't add any fees or interest."
• Payday lenders must report how many lawsuits they file annually against borrowers for nonpayment. They also must report how many payments were made by people sued before the lawsuits were filed.
The industry has asserted that the lion's share of such lawsuits are against people who made no payments at all, and Daw said the reporting would show whether that is true.
Daw is making those moves after The Salt Lake Tribune reported in December that payday lenders sued 7,927 Utahns last year, roughly the population of Park City. State reports also said nearly 46,000 Utahns last year could not pay off loans in the 10 weeks they can be extended.
Daw said his legislation is designed mostly to help reduce "the large number of court cases that are occurring." Critics of the industry contend that it by design lures poorer people into loans they cannot afford and urges them to take out more loans to pay off old ones until, finally, suing them when they can afford no more.
Industry representatives dispute that, but say they charge high interest which now averages 482 percent APR in Utah because they serve people who often can obtain credit nowhere else.
Kip Cashmore, president of the Utah Consumer Lending Association and head of USA Cash Services, said the industry backs the bill and that with its help, Utah now has "the most consumer-friendly regulation in the country."
Wendy Gibson, with Check City, called it a "well-balanced piece of legislation to really help consumers" and said hers is a "very, very reputable industry with a low rate of complaints."
Daw originally proposed to create a state-run database and allow each borrower to have no more than two loans.
House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, praised Daw for "taking more of a scalpel instead of a bulldozer approach."
Daw has long been an outspoken critic of the industry and House investigators who looked into scandals leading up to the resignation of former Attorney General John Swallow said the industry retaliated against Daw by using shady tactics and financing to defeat him in 2012. He won re-election two years later.