Jun 25, 2007

Squeezing Blood from a Turnip

In Athens as nationwide, companies are finding ways to squeeze blood from a turnip.

Previous entries have pretty thoroughly driven home the point that low-income families have to make a lot of difficult decisions on how to spend their money. This constant position of never adequately meeting all of a family’s needs, often coupled with inadequate financial literacy, can make a tough situation increasingly worse. Unfortunately, when money runs out before the next paycheck or paying eight bucks a week for a children’s bunk bed seems the only reasonable solution, there are many companies that are all too eager to help low-income families part with their money.

An interesting article in the May 21 issue of Business Week describes a number of types of companies that target low-income consumers, including payday lenders, car dealerships that offer credit to anyone, rent-to-own furniture and appliance stores, and high-interest credit card companies. Credit is becoming easier and easier to obtain, but it often comes with interest rates that at times might as well demand your firstborn child as part of the payback.

Payday Lenders
In an area with such high poverty rates as Athens County, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that many companies fall into these categories. On East State Street alone, there are three payday lenders and two rent-to-own furniture and appliance stores (a fourth payday lender is on Columbus Road.)

Of course, payday lenders and rent-to-own stores aren't charities and shouldn't be expected to operate as charities. And sometimes, unexpected expenses arise that require people living paycheck-to-paycheck to resort to companies like this—indeed, a payday loan might be a lifesaver once in awhile. But frequent use of services like this can turn those who have very little money into those who have a great deal of debt. "Unsophisticated" consumers, as the Business Week article refers to them, might not understand interest rates or realize just how much debt they are incurring.

For the purpose of this example, take local payday lender Advance America Cash Advance, located at 971 E. State St. The company's online fee schedule indicates that if you borrow money from them, you're going to pay about 15 percent in fees. If you borrow $250, you cut the company a check for $287.50. To their credit, the company's Web site. explains that this shouldn't become a habit:

"Since a payday advance is a short-term solution to an immediate need, it is not intended for repeated use in carrying an individual from payday to payday. When an immediate need arises, we're here to help. But a payday advance is not a long-term solution for ongoing budget management. Repeated or frequent use can create serious financial hardships."

That's where financial literacy and common sense should come in on the part of the consumer, but circumstance doesn't always allow for that. And taking $37 out of an already meager paycheck every week just because you can't afford to wait for it can cost you substantially.

...Stay tuned for: Tax preparation and rent-to-own appliances and furniture!

No comments: