Former Hays resident Annie Ricker was confident she could quickly pay off $750 borrowed from a payday lender to meet unexpected medical and automobile expenditures.
By the time the debt was satisfied, Ricker had paid more than $3,000 to the lender.
Ricker, pastor at Berryton United Methodist Church, joined two dozen people in Topeka for simultaneous protests Tuesday led by members of the organization Kansans for Payday Loan Reform. They gathered in six cities across Kansas to launch an effort to reform state law by limiting interest rates and regulating payment schedules set by payday and auto title loan companies. She said Kansas law enabled companies to charge rates as high as 391%.
"We want Kansas to reform its laws to ensure that, one, people have enough time to repay the loan in affordable installment plans over months not weeks," Ricker said. "And to limit the amount to no more than 5% from each paycheck."
Kathleen Marker, CEO of the YWCA of Northeast Kansas, said a coalition of 20 religious and secular organizations would make themselves heard during the 2020 session of the Kansas Legislature on the loan issue. Thousands of financially vulnerable people across the state can benefit from reasonable limits on lending, she said.
"We're here to launch a campaign for everyday Kansans to take back this state and proclaim a moral economy — one that is fair and one that is just," Marker said.
The coalition's members assembled in Topeka in a strip-mall parking lot next to a LoanMax outlet near 29th and Fairlawn. Other members of the coalition convened at similar events in Salina, Wichita, Pittsburg, Lawrence and Kansas City, Kan.
An employee in the Topeka LoanMax, which is a car title loan business, said the company would have no comment.
Topeka resident Anton Ahrens said the federal government had imposed interest-rate restrictions applicable to members of the military. That model can be useful to policymakers at the state level, he said.
"Why shouldn't ordinary citizens get the same rights?" Ahrens said.
Joyce Revely, of Kansans for Payday Loan Reform, said short-term lenders prey upon women, children, veterans and seniors in the community. She said Kansans ought to be fed up with companies taking advantage of the most vulnerable people.
Borrowers who struggle to repay loans fall behind on basic expenses and end up turning to charities and government programs for help with those fundamental costs of living, she said.
The Kansas bank commissioner's office reported that in 2018 about 685,000 title or payday loans were made with a value of $267 million. In Kansas, a company can legally charge interest sufficient to transform a $300 loan into a $750 obligation in five months.
"Predatory payday and auto title loans, as they exist today, are unjust and abusive," Ricker said at the brief rally outside LoanMax. "The reforms we propose will help borrowers use the loans as intended, a temporary bridge, and not an inescapable rap."