Alabama Supreme Court clears way for statewide payday loan database

A single decision by the Alabama Supreme Court may cut the number of payday lenders in the state by half. In a holding without a written opinion, the court affirmed Friday that the state Banking Department has the authority to require lenders to use a common statewide databaseto help enforce Alabama’s cap on total payday loan debt.

The case, Cash Mart, Inc., et al. v. Alabama State Department of Banking, was a challenge to the department’s regulatory authority. The Banking Department issued the database rule in light of the Legislature’s failure to pass the requirement in a statute.

Arise has long sought a statewide payday loan database to close a loophole that allows many payday borrowers to exceed the state’s existing $500 cap on payday loan debt. Without a common database as an enforcement mechanism, payday borrowers can go from store to store and rack up thousands of dollars of debt at annual interest rates of up to 456 percent. Creation of the database could shutter about half of Alabama’s payday loan storefronts, industry representatives have estimated.

The court’s ruling also eliminates the need to create a database by statute. HB 417, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, would have required lenders to use a centralized database and won House committee approval earlier this month. Todd withdrew the bill Tuesday after the decision.

The Banking Department already has selected a vendor for the database and originally announced June 1 as the date for the system to go live. However, the department since has announced a delay in that date and has yet to announce a new one.

Arise and other consumer advocates will continue to push the Legislature to approve payday loan interest rate caps in Alabama.

By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted April 28, 2015.