When Sharks Attack: Idaho Activists Target Predatory Payday Lending 

click to enlarge Protestors outside a payday lender on Nampa's Caldwell Boulevard. - SARAH ROSIN
  • Sarah Rosin
  • Protestors outside a payday lender on Nampa's Caldwell Boulevard.
The Idaho Community Action Network says they want what they call a "feeding frenzy" to stop. Using the ever-popular Discovery Channel “Shark Week” event as it’s theme, over two dozen members of the consumer advocate organization took to the streets to protest not great whites or hammerheads, but a different kind of shark: loan sharks.

“Our biggest concern is that in addition to harming families, they’re harming small businesses,” said Terri Sterling, executive director for ICAN. “When you have, in the city of Nampa, over $30,601,200 being taken from the local economy, you can imagine that has a huge impact… So we know that it’s bad here. It was bad in Caldwell too. Two years ago we worked with Caldwell city council to adopt a density ordinance that doesn’t allow any new lenders in the community without a public process.”

Sterling said she wants to see similar action taken in Nampa. Within in city there are 24 payday loan and title loan companies, with annual interest rates average 582%. The team of volunteers, many who have been preyed upon by predatory lenders, passed out flyers, chanted protest slogans, and waved at drivers as they passed by on the Nampa-Caldwell Blvd-an area with particularly high payday lender density.

“The most exciting thing that we’re hoping for is that the city council decides to meet with us. We tried to set up a meeting last week and we couldn’t get on their agenda,” said Sterling. “So we decided that we needed to draw some more attention to the issue in the community and get the word out there so hopefully they’ll be putting us on the agenda next time.”

For Ayde Saavedra, the issue is of particular importance. Saavedra said she got caught in the trap of payday loans before ICAN reached out to her for her story. She now volunteers with the group to inform people of the dangerous interest rates and destructive tactics of lenders. The most important element, she said, is education:

“My eyes are open and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. High school economics didn’t teach me about this.’ They told me about supply and demand, but that’s all I got. Until I came out into the real world, working forty hours a week, and then something happens,” said Saavedra.

For many low-income families in Nampa, that “something” that happens often is the catalyst to a tragic cycle of payday lending and escalating interest rates. The process to reform, however, requires attention at all levels. ICAN volunteers said they plan to counter-attack with protests and information at city levels first, and hope that the state will take action as well.

“The ultimate goal is to get the legislation changed… Senator Heider has supported some legislation last year. It wasn’t quite exactly what we were hoping to get in terms of the regulation on there, but it’s a start,” said volunteer, Jennifer Martinez. “While we’re working at the state level, we’re going to be doing what we can at the city level to show support that cities want this, people want this, and the state will pay more attention to that.”

When actual sharks attack, experts recommended punching them in the snout. With the combined efforts of ICAN and volunteers putting in the time and energy across Idaho, loan sharks and payday lenders may want to prepare for a hard hit.

click to enlarge Protestors outside a payday lender on Nampa's Caldwell Boulevard. - SARAH ROSIN
  • Sarah Rosin
  • Protestors outside a payday lender on Nampa's Caldwell Boulevard.

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