Charles Dickens would probably be surprised to see just how little social progress we've made:
At least six people have been jailed in Texas over the past two years for owing money on payday loans, according to a damning new analysis of public court records.
The economic advocacy group Texas Appleseed found that more than 1,500 debtors have been hit with criminal charges in the state -- even though Texas enacted a law in 2012 explicitly prohibiting lenders from using criminal charges to collect debts.
According to Appleseed's review, 1,576 criminal complaints were issued against debtors in eight Texas counties between 2012 and 2014. 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, the group found.
Appleseed included this analysis in a Dec. 17 letter sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Texas attorney general's office and several other government entities.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Using criminal courts as debt collection agencies is against federal law, the Texas constitution and the state’s penal code. To clarify the state law, in 2012 the Texas legislature passed legislation that explicitly describes the circumstances under which lenders are prohibited from pursuing criminal charges against borrowers.
It’s quite simple: In Texas, failure to repay a loan is a civil, not a criminal, matter. Payday lenders cannot pursue criminal charges against borrowers unless fraud or another crime is clearly established.
In 2013, a devastating Texas Observer investigation documented widespread use of criminal charges against borrowers before the clarification to state law was passed.
Nevertheless, Texas Appleseed's new analysis shows that payday lenders continue to routinely press dubious criminal charges against borrowers.
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