Published: February 08, 2012
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Seven people from the Danville chapter of Virginia Organizing protested predatory lending Wednesday while standing in front of Advance America Payday Loans on Piney Forest Road.

The group held signs — many with shark themes — blasting what they believe are unfair lending practices of payday loan businesses. Organizers said they hope to get the attention of state Sen. Bill Stanley and to get him to vote in favor of anti-predatory loan legislation in the General Assembly.

“Payday loan sharks charge over 300 percent [annual percentage rate], purposefully locate their shops in low-income minority communities, and perpetuates a vicious cycle of debt for hard working Virginians,” said Virginia Organizing’s Julie Blust in a news release.

In his first protest with Virginia Organizing, Danvillian Mike Huggins said he was willing to stand out in the cold and rain with a sign against “loan sharks” because he thinks it is important to send a message to people. And the time had come for him to be active in his opinions.

“I don’t agree with the way a lender will lend in ways they know is predatory,” said Huggins. “I’m pro social justice. When does it come to the point to be a part of the change you want to see?”

According to Advance America’s website, in Virginia a loan for $100 has a fee of $28 and an adjustable percentage rate of 340 percent and a $500 loan has a $120 fee and an APR of 292 percent. The website states these figures assumes a 30-day term and the fee and APR include a loan origination fee of $20 for every $100 borrowed and a verification fee of $5 plus interest at 36 percent assuming a 30-day term and that the fee is financed.

But many people believe that the payday loans help people in Virginia.

Jamie Fulmer, the vice president of public affairs at Advance America, said customers are very well aware of what the rates are when they take out a loan and they have been “overwhelmingly satisfied” with the service.

“I think Virginia Organizing has long been a critic of ours and in spite of their rhetoric, thousands of people in the commonwealth choose to use our services everyday,” said Fulmer. “Our customers use a product they value and they choose because it is an affordable option.”

Fulmer called the event a “publicity stunt” and said it insults the business and “degrades” the customers. Fulmer said he favors more dialogue with customers and legislators as opposed to having a protest.

The main target for the protest — other than driver’s passing by — was Stanley, who is a member of the Commerce and Labor Committee.

Virginia Organizing’s Nik Belanger thanked Stanley for his vote in favor of Senate bill 163 that helps homeowners in fraudulent foreclosures, but criticized him for not supporting bills Virginia Organizing believe protect people from predatory lending services.

The group urged Stanley to support legislation that caps the annual rate for payday loans at 36 percent.

Stanley could not be reached for comment at press time.

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