Military and Payday

Published: November 22, 2010

Payday lenders survive by keeping customers caught in long-term debt, and before 2007, members of the American military service were not off-limits. In fact, payday loan stores clustered around bases, promising quick cash to military families in need, who, when they borrowed from a payday lender more often than not ended up caught in debt at triple-digit interest.

Congress acted to protect military families from this predation by including a measure in the Defense Authorization Act of 2006 that prohibits payday and title lenders from charging higher than 36 percent APR. The lawmakers were responding to a 92-page report from the Department of Defense documenting widespread and ongoing financial difficulties among military families due to predatory practices like payday and car title lending.

Testifying that the situation was not only affecting the quality of life of military families, but was also compromising national security by affecting troop readiness for war, the Undersecretary of the Department of Defense urged Congress to cap annual interest rates at 36 percent for military personnel.

The Military Lending Act took effect in October of 2007, capping payday loans, car title loans and refund anticipation loans at 36 percent APR. It has reportedly been significantly, though not completely, successful in keeping military families free of predatory debt. A spokesman for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society says that organization is providing assistance related to payday loans at one quarter of the level it was in 2006. (Army Times, p5, April 26, 2010)

But in addition to being susceptible to practices not covered by the Act, military families are also now vulnerable to payday loans from banks, several of which have recently entered the predatory market with high-cost cash advances secured by the borrower’s direct deposit paycheck. And Congress has not broadened the protections in the Military Lending Act to cover civilians, which leaves the millions of Americans who live in states without protections vulnerable to predatory payday and car title lenders. However, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has the authority to address these practices at the national level.