Three Mississippi women share their challenges with payday lenders

Payday loan outlets with interest rates as high as 521% are so prevalent in Mississippi that they outnumber McDonald’s restaurants by more than 5 to 1, USA TODAY found.

The Mississippi Center for Justice, a public interest law firm, works with a few cities and local banks in the state to teach residents about financial literacy and budgeting through a program called New Roots Credit Partnership. One of the goals: to get residents to stop using payday loans, which the law firm says are predatory, especially in predominantly black communities.

But INFiN, a consumer lending alliance that represents payday lenders, said its members provide low-cost, unsecured loans to residents who need cash fast. It says many borrowers need money for food, utilities, rent and prescriptions. The maximum payday loan in Mississippi is $500.

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Here are the experiences of three Mississippi residents who have dealt with payday loans:

Brandy Davis, 44, has a doctorate and a master’s degree in business administration and said his advanced training came from his experience with payday lenders.

Davis, who lives in Olive Branch, said in 2010 that she was a high school teacher struggling to make ends meet.

Davis said she needed about $600 for a utility bill and got three separate payday loans from different lenders in one day.

However, when payday came, she was unable to fully repay the debts.

So, she said she keeps getting new payday loans to pay off old loans, with the fees added each time with compound interest.

After a six-year cycle, Davis said she had racked up more than $10,000 in payday loan fees and interest on her many short-term loans.

“I was in a whirlwind and fell into a state of depression,” she said.

Davis said she was considering filing for bankruptcy protection, but said her mother’s insurance agent advised her on a plan on how to budget and settle her loan debt on salary.

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“Where we live in the Mississippi Delta and being surrounded by poverty, we sometimes find ourselves at the mercy of payday loans,” said Davis, who now works in academic affairs at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee. “If you are in poverty, it will bring you down.”

Tisha Willis, 50, said she had never borrowed from a payday lender after working in the industry for five years.

“I know better,” said Willis, who lives in the Florence suburb of Jackson. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to do that… If you go there once, they’ll keep needing that money.”

Tisha Willis, with a jacket, celebrates with her family and her real estate agent after buying a house.  Willis said he improved his credit rating, which enabled him to buy the house, through the New Roots Credit Partnership program in Mississippi.

Willis said she took the New Roots Credit Partnership’s financial literacy course and learned how to improve her credit rating, which helped her buy her first home – a five-bedroom house for her large blended family.

“It’s open to everyone. It’s a family home,” said Willis, who works for the City of Jackson in voter services. “When my dad gets older, he gets a bedroom. It’s a generational home.”

Willis said she encourages others who may be in dire financial straits to seek out a financial expert and “not rush into payday loans.”

Vokeya Hughes, 39, said she needed money in 2018 to pay for funeral expenses.

She said she was approved for a payday loan of at least $500 through an online company, but was unable to repay all of the debt.

Hughes said she then lost her job and could no longer pay at all.

Eventually, Hughes said she incurred more than $2,000 in late fees and interest.

Indianola's Vokeya Hughes said when she applied for a payday loan, she was asked for references.  She later found out that these referrals were being offered loans from the payday loan company.

Hughes said she eventually paid off her debt, but her credit report showed she still owed money, making it difficult to buy a home.

“It (payday loans) affects you in the long run, even if I had paid it back,” she said.

Hughes added that when she applied for her loan, she asked for three referrals and was offered incentives for those names.

She later found out that the payday loan company offered these referral loans, and there are payday loan offices “on every corner” in some Mississippi towns.

“They’re side by side,” Hughes said.

Got a tip on business or investigative stories? Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-509-3613 or on Twitter @CraigHarrisUSAT or linkedin.com/in/craig-harris-70024030/

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