Extortionate loans enslaving Britons

The controversial industry of payday loans is seizing the crisis-stricken United Kingdom. Enticed by easy money, low-income Britons find it hard to break the vicious habit of endless borrowing, sometimes being unable to repay their debts.

­While millions struggle to get by in the global financial crisis, there are cunning tricksters grasping any opportunity for profiting from predatory payday loan schemes, methodically indebting the population.

Until recently, payday loans were the preserve of the desperate to get fast, easy, no-questions-asked cash. The catch is punitive interest rates, in some cases reaching a staggering 1,700% a year.

The Internet payday loan business is growing explosively in Britain, with the web swarming with websites offering ₤100 – ₤1,500 ($160 – $2,400) payday loans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Online money-lenders are luring clients, promising easy online application and quick approvals in a matter of minutes.

It sounds so easy, but in fact such short-term financial solutions can become a long-term trap.

“I took out a ₤100 loan. What happened next month is I paid the ₤100 loan back, but having to pay about ₤160,” debtor Kelly Smith told RT. “So when I was struggling before, that was no struggle compared to what I’ll be dealing with this month.”

In these times of economic hardship, traditional credit card and bank loans come harder, reports PriceWaterhouseCoopers. As a result, payday loans are becoming part of the fabric of the UK’s economic society, the only growth sector in the consumer credit market.

In March the UK Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) reported a six-fold growth in customers who had payday loan debts since 2009. This conclusion is based on the fact that up to 13 per cent of those who addressed the CCCS in 2011 confessed to having payday loans. Three years ago, the figure was a mere 2.6 per cent.

“What’s happening in the current economic climate is that people are paying down their credit card debt,” explains David Lamidey, chief executive of Consumer Finance Association. “They don’t want long-term debt anymore because they’re worried about their future income streams or their jobs perhaps, so the ability to borrow just the money you need for a short period of time, many people are finding much more advantageous than running up long-term debt on credit cards.”

The payday loan can only be advantageous if the debt is paid off straight away. But high interest rates and extortionate late charges can make it impossible for people on low incomes to pay off their debts.

According to research by the Debt Support Trust, people owe on average ₤1,200 ($1,910), and 40% of them are borrowing money to pay for basic living costs. Even more worryingly, most customers have borrowed from a payday loan company to pay off another payday loan company.

Now, the average payday borrower has four loans from different companies. And they’re constantly targeted by the firms.

“They’ve somehow managed to get my number off this one company. Other different loans texted me, saying “hi Kelly, do you want to have a loan”. There are all these different companies texting me – it annoys me really because I think, why would you want to get somebody in debt like this?” wonders Kelly Smith, who has been trapped in a vicious cycle of debt for months.

British debtors could perhaps compare their loan dependence with smoking addiction. Its harm is universally recognized, but while making attempts to quit the bad habit, they find out they cannot afford to do so.