'I felt like they were taking advantage of me:' Wisconsin lawmakers look to rein in payday lenders

MILWAUKEE -- More than $22 million in payday loans were issued in Wisconsin last year.

In some cases, the interest paid was more than the initial loan.

Now, a group of lawmakers wants to rein in payday lenders.

One woman says she regrets the loan she took out and reached out to Contact 6.

"I felt like they were taking advantage of me," said Jasmine Gray.

On CashNetUSA.com, Gray was approved for a loan and actually came that same day.

Her relief was short-lived.

"They sent me the contract and I was like, 'wait a minute, what? That's how much I have to pay back?'" said Gray.

Turns out Gray's loan had an annual percentage rate of 338%.

The $800 she borrowed was going to cost her $2,342.

Jasmine Gray

"So, I said I'd call Contact 6 and see if they can help me figure this out," said Gray.

Contact 6 wrote to CashNet USA and soon after, it revised Gray's payments, saving her more than $1,000.

But she's hardly the only person to struggle with a payday loan. It's something lawmakers from both sides recognize.

"In some cases, we're looking at over 500% annual percentage rate. I think that's excessive," said Representative Scott Allen.

Rep. Scott Allen

Republican Allen and Democrat Representative Christine Sinicki introduced a 2019 bill that sought to limit the annual percentage rates for payday loans to 36%.

Last year, the average APR for all payday loans in Wisconsin was 528%.

"So many people have had to take out other loans to pay off payday loans," said Rep. Sinicki. "It becomes a cycle."

Nearly 64,000 payday loans were issued in Wisconsin in 2019.

The number paid in full, on time, was about 33,000.

The average loan was $350.

They are preying on people who are desperate," said Rep. Sinicki. "They are preying on the poor."

The bill also classifies payday lenders as financial institutions -- more tightly regulated by the state.

Some lawmakers are concerned restricting payday lenders could dry up the marketplace.

Rep. Christine Sinicki

"They provide a service and some people find that service valuable, and if we provide too many restrictions, that service goes away," said Rep. Allen.

The Assembly's session wrapped up without the bill passing, but sponsors hope it sparks conversation about a payday loan bill that can pass.

"I don't understand how it's legal for them to do that," said Gray.

Contact 6 reached out to several payday lenders for comment, but did not hear back.

Gray wrote to us back in 2018 and around that same time, we ran a story about CashNet USA and got this statement:

"CashNet USA provides needed credit options for Americans who often have been turned down for credit at a bank or credit union. Credit is based on risk."

If you take out a payday loan, it's best to pay it off quickly because you'll pay less in interest.

If you have an APR over 500%, that can really add up over a year.

But, if you get a $350 loan and pay it back in just 14 days, a common plan, you'll have just $70 in interest.

That $70 is close to the average interest paid on payday loans last year.