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The year in business: Payday loan debate heats up in Baton Rouge …

Lobbyists for the payday loan industry stormed Baton Rouge over the summer as state lawmakers deliberated tighter controls on short-term, high-interest loans.

Proponents for stricter rules argued payday loans prey on the working class and trap them in a cycle of debt that can ruin their credit.

But payday lenders said restrictions would put them out of business and stymie a much-needed source of lending for the poor.

By the end of the 2014 legislative session, the payday loan industry had beaten back several proposals to limits its activity. But the fight isn’t over.

What happened: The Legislature considered several proposals putting limits on payday loans during the 2014 session.

Initial bills, sponsored by Rep. Ted James, D – Baton Rouge and Sen. Ben Nevers, D – Bogalusa, proposed capping payday loan interest rates at 36 percent annually.

A later draft abandoned the 36 percent cap and instead proposed limiting borrowers to 10 payday loans per year. It also required payday lenders to enter transaction into a database reviewed by the Office of Financial Institutions.

The bill failed on the Senate floor in late April, despite the support of consumer advocates, including AARP Louisiana and Louisiana Together, a statewide network of religious and civic organizations.

Senators who voted against the bill were wary of placing limits on lending, which they said could damage the industry and hurt consumers.

What’s next: AARP Louisiana, Louisiana Together and other groups that led the initial charge for limits have vowed to continue their push in the 2015 session.

Payday lenders are likely to face heightened scrutiny in coming years, even if Louisiana rules do not change.

Federal regulators have already cracked down on banks that offer short-term products.

In July, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached a $10 million settlement with payday lender ACE Cash Express over illegal debt collection tactics. The agency, which became the first to oversee payday loans in 2012, is in the process of drafting rules for the entire industry.

In the meantime, traditional lenders, including Liberty Bank & Trust in New Orleans, are experimenting with ways to offer small loans and other products tailored for low-income borrowers.

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The year in business: Payday loan debate heats up in Baton Rouge …

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