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TN Payday Lender Grows at Breakneck Speed Amid Industry Criticism

From an article in the Tennessean.

Deborah Jackson was living paycheck to paycheck when she walked into an Advance Financial store for a $425 loan.

She was late on her rent. A car payment and other expenses were looming.

“I needed a one-time loan to pay a light bill so they’d keep the lights on,” said Jackson, 57, who lives in East Nashville and works at a preschool.

Paying back the loan ate a sizable chunk of her take-home pay. With her bills piling up, she ended up re-borrowing her two-week loan, again and again, for nearly two years. Advance charged a $60 fee for each renewal, so the interest rate worked out to 585 percent a year.

Advance Financial has labored to shine its public image. It has been recognized for volunteerism and for treating its employees well. Its storefronts feature long windows and bright lights to help the company move beyond the notion of payday lenders as unscrupulous exploiters of down-on-their-luck borrowers. In fact, said company spokesman Cullen Earnest, they’re in business to help people.

“People get loans from us who might otherwise get them from people who might rough them up if they don’t pay back,” he said. “Nobody said these products should be the be-all, end-all, but without us, where would they go?”