In 2012, the state of Texas enacted a law that prohibited lenders from using criminal charges as a means to collect debts. That hasn’t stopped the courts from putting at least six people in jail for owing money to payday lenders, the Huffington Post reported.
Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center out of Austin, analyzed public court records and found that more than 1,500 people have been brought up on criminal charges over owed debt.
Their review found that 1,576 criminal complaints were issued in eight Texas counties between 2012 and the spring of this year, according to HuffPo. “These complaints were often filed by courts with minimal review and based solely on the payday lender’s word and frequently flimsy evidence. As a result, borrowers have been forced to repay at least $166,000…”
“Payday loan businesses filing criminal charges erode the quality, consistency, and authority of the criminal justice system by brazenly violating state and federal laws,” read a complaint filed by Appleseed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner, and the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
The complaint continued,
“Unlawful use of state and prosecutors and courts as de facto debt collection agencies undermines the integrity of these agencies. These outcomes are inconsistent with intent of consumer protection laws and the intent of Texas criminal laws.”
Appleseed also called upon the agencies to use their authority to take action to “end the practice of payday loan businesses filing criminal complaints against borrowers as a debt collection tool;” conduct more detailed investigations into these cases; remove any wrongful convictions in these cases from the borrowers’ criminal records; revoke licenses from lenders filing chrages; and ensure restitution for fines or served jail time, including funds paid to the court, district attorney, and “funds collected through concurrent, non-criminal debt collection tactics.”
While Appleseed’s complaint provides a clear plan of action for handling these wrongfully-filed charges, they could have gone a step farther and called for making payday lenders illegal in Texas altogether. With interest rates reaching triple digits, these types of loans trap borrowers into amassing an insurmountable amount of debt. They should be facing criminal charges — not filing them.