Editorial: Payday lenders create loophole with tribes
"Payday lenders are the bottom-feeders of the financial industry, offering short-term loans with high fees to borrowers who typically live from paycheck to paycheck. Even those that play by state rules can still ensnare over- extended borrowers in debt traps. Yet some payday lenders can't seem to live with any regulation at all. With the support of a handful of compliant Indian tribes, they've opened online operations that they claim are beyond the reach of regulators in Sacramento and other state capitals. But their bid for sovereign immunity is a sham, and if the courts don't put a stop to it, Congress should.

Although some consumer groups want lawmakers to all but ban payday lenders, California and 34 other states have chosen instead to cap the amount they can lend, the fees they can charge and the number of times they can renew loans. But a number of online payday lenders are ignoring those relatively permissive requirements, claiming they're "economic subdivisions" of Midwest Indian nations. This tactic has helped them fend off cease-and-desist notices and tie up regulators in the courts.

Payday lenders tried to avoid state rules once before by affiliating themselves with banks, only to have federal regulators bar such marriages of convenience. If the courts fall for the current ruse, they'll be establishing a loophole that's not just illogical, it's dangerous. If companies can evade state regulations simply by agreeing to funnel a share of their profits to a tribe, reservations could become virtual havens for all manner of online scammers and financial predators. Consumers would have little recourse, and law-abiding companies in the state would have trouble competing. Congress should make clear that each state's payday lending rules, and its consumer-protection laws in general, apply to any business offering products there, no matter what deal it may cut with an Indian tribe."

Get the Story:
Editorial: A payday loan loophole (The Los Angeles Times 4/15)