A Jefferson City religious leader is taking a stand against what she believes are predatory lending practices across the country.
Rev. Cassandra Gould, of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to join a national effort to more closely regulate the practices of payday and title loan companies.
"These businesses crop up, and they're almost invisible because if you're not looking for a payday loan, you almost don't realize they're there," Gould said. "Missouri is ranked in the top two (after Texas) as far as the most egregious laws around payday lending."
The average interest rate for payday loans in Missouri is 455 percent, and the average Missourian who gets a payday loan has more than one, she said. Her goal is to cap the interest rate at 36 percent.
Gould, who will become executive director of Jefferson City-headquartered Missouri Faith Voices in June, said the statewide, interdenominational organization has been working for tighter lending laws for more than three years. The organization advocated for an unsuccessful state ballot initiative in 2012 to cap payday loan interest rates in Missouri.
Religious leaders from several Christian denominations across the country met in Washington, D.C., to discuss collaboration efforts and to unveil the Faith for Just Lending initiative led by the PICO National Network.
"The goal is to find a bipartisan leadership to really help this to become a law," Gould said.
Gould is one of two Missouri pastors - Rev. Chuck Greenaway, of James River Church in Springfield, is the second - who participated in the initial meetings.
The Faith for Just Lending initiative is working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to advocate for a 36 percent federal cap to loan interest rates, as well as limit the number of loans a person can get in a 12-month period and limit the number of times a payday lender can draft a person's bank account. The Military Lending Act of 2007 set the same 36 percent interest cap for military families.
"As of now, military families have that protection," Gould said. "The CFPB, the Center for Responsible Lending and activists across the country believe that every family should have that same right."
The initiative's next steps will be for the CFPB to hold a public comment period later this year and to continue gathering support from leaders of other religious denominations, Gould said. The Southern Baptist Church, Evangelicals of America, Assemblies of God, Progressive Baptists, Baptist Cooperative Fellowship and Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference are already on board.
"This Just Lending group is really a coalition that normally, honestly, doesn't work together, mostly because of theological differences," Gould said. "We can find common ground on these kinds of issues.
"We're looking at this as more of an issue of moral economy. It's basically just the right thing to do," she said.
She noted churches like hers - which has received requests for benevolence from people who cannot afford to pay off payday loan debt - also try to provide financial education to community members to help them avoid crisis situations, but she believes the issue is bigger than what those efforts can address.
"It's desperate people in desperate situations who are not fully aware of what they're really getting into. And they make it way too easy to get these payday loans," Gould said. "We cannot regulate people who want to take advantage of our most vulnerable citizens. So that's why we need political leadership to assist with that, and we need agencies like the CFPB to really help with that."