Churches help people avoid payday loan debt

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SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Six years ago, a group of Shreveport churches started a program to help people in the Highland neighborhood escape payday loan debt.

Since then, the Hand Up loan program has helped more than 80 people secure more than $130,000 in lower interest rate loans.

Dozens of new beginnings have been funded by faith.

“I was on drugs. I was on alcohol,” said Clydell Hall. “Now I have my own home. I own two cars, two jobs.”

One of those jobs is at Highland Center Ministries.

It’s where Clydell Hall found help when he desperately needed it.

He was a homeless veteran who needed a car to get to school and work.

He was able to get a $2,500 loan through the Hand Up Loan Program.

“What we do is work together to provide good, effective alternatives, where they can be involved in something that is going to build their credit and build their lives,” said John Henson, Pastor, Church for the Highlands.

Henson is not only a pastor but is also the leader of Highland Center Ministries and founder of the Hand Up Loan Program, which provides an alternative to high-interest payday loans.

The program started in July 2013.

 “One of our church members was noticing how many payday loan places were here in the neighborhood,” shared Henson. ” Just looking within a mile radius of this building there were 12 businesses that he counted.”

The church wanted to provide economic justice for the working poor,  helping them get out of, or avoid getting into the trap of the payday debt cycle.

“Jews, Muslims, Christians, this is part of our scripture that usury is wrong and it is a si,” explained Henson. “It is wrong to hold people who are vulnerable to this kind of debt.”

So Highland Center Ministries, a collaboration of 14 churches, pooled their resources to back the high-risks loans… and partnered with Pelican State Credit Union to administer them.

“This was something they had never done… something we had never done,” said Henson.

People borrow money at a fixed-rate less than 10-percent, have access to a low-fee ATM, go through credit counseling and make a budget to repay the loan.

“The money that comes in from them repaying the loan goes back into the pot to help other people who are in need,” said Henson.

That includes people like Debbie Posey.

“I needed a new mattress because the springs were coming through and my mother was coming to visit,” said Debbie Posey. “I couldn’t have her sleeping on that mattress.”

Posey says she doesn’t make much money working for a non-profit and hadn’t used credit for more than 20 years, so she had no recent credit history.

“Unfortunately my only other option would have been a payday loan place or another high-interest place to do it because no one else would touch it,” said Posey.

Posey says she was able to get a loan for the mattress, and later… another loan to purchase a car.

“I paid both of those loans off, no problem, and when earlier this year I need to borrow more money, I was able to do it on my own because I had built up a good enough credit score to where I could do that,” Posey shared.

For so many who have received a hand up, it’s been life-changing.

“All I can say is Thank God,” Hall explained.

Click here for more information on Highland Center Ministries and the Hand Up loan program.

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