Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday March 6, 2021
Payday lender lines of credit and instalment loans at 47% create debt traps, critics say
Patricia Edwards of Toronto wanted to help her two adult daughters when they fell behind on bill payments at the rented townhouse they share.
She has few assets and a poor credit history, but she was employed at the time, so she went to a payday lender — not for a payday loan, but for an ongoing line of credit.
“I was like, OK, let’s see if I qualify for the loan because I’m working.”
Edwards, 53, was able to borrow $1,500 early in 2019 from Cash Money. But then she lost her job, and in 2020 came the pandemic. She’s had to refinance the loan twice, and went to another lender, Money Mart, for an instalment loan that could be repaid over two years.
Now she’s close to $5,000 in debt, all in, paying nearly 47 per cent interest on both loans.
Her predicament, and that of many other Canadians like her, has a chorus of voices calling for industry reform. Activist groups, elected officials and even some smaller lending companies say financially vulnerable people are too often lured by payday lenders’ low bi-monthly payments on longer-term loans without realizing how the costs will add up.
“I’d love to get a bank loan,” said Edwards. “But I don’t have a car, I don’t have a home, I don’t have any assets. I don’t qualify.”
Payday lenders argue that’s exactly why their services are essential. They provide money to people in need who otherwise would be unable to borrow.
In a statement to CBC News, the Canadian Consumer Finance Association, which represents close to 1,000 high-interest lenders across the country, said unsecured loans are expensive to provide, and that its members’ interest rates are government-approved.
Acorn Canada, a national organization that advocates for low-income people, has taken aim at large payday lenders, organizing protests across the country and calling on the federal government to take action.
Donna Borden, vice-chair of Acorn’s East York chapter in Toronto, said the pandemic has forced more Canadians to turn to high-interest lenders.
“A lot of people are using or taking these loans to buy food, to pay their rent,” she said. “And especially now with COVID, it’s even worse.”
Instalment loans, where regular repayments are scheduled over a number of years, were the fastest growing segment of lending among payday companies, according to the results of a limited online survey conducted by Acorn in February. It found that the number of survey respondents who reported taking instalment loans had jumped from 11 per cent in 2016 to 45 per cent in 2020.
Independent Sen. Pierrette Ringuette of New Brunswick has sponsored two bills to have the Criminal Code amended to lower the maximum interest rate that lenders can legally charge from 60 to 20 per cent plus the overnight bank rate. Neither bill moved forward due to prorogations and election calls, but Ringuette said she intends to sponsor another one.
“Canada is like a gold mine to these institutions because of the current state of legislation we have in place,” she said. (CBC)