In my 43 years of life, there are only a handful of moments where I can recall the details of the conflict in my heart, the physical response of a fast heartbeat and that last moment of pause before making a very painful decision.
I remember agreeing to illogical terms, and telling myself I can make this work. I am not a statistic. I will pay this $700 right away and not be a victim to the scheme that is a payday loan.
But here I stand, as yet another victim of the payday loan debt trap. I am a divorced mother of two amazing teenage girls. I work as an advocate for the homeless and I am no stranger to hard work having worked multiple jobs for as long as I can remember. My primary job does not provide health insurance and unexpected medical expenses along with a tight budget left me looking at several bills arriving at about the same time; at rent time.
In a moment of desperation, I took out a payday loan for $700, just enough to cover my shortages. I intended to get in and get out.
My first two payments were over $200 and they did not even touch the principal. Somehow, two months after taking out a $700 loan and paying over $400, my loan amount was $997.97. Not only had my loan amount increased, but I was told very clearly that this amount was subject to increase again. At the end of my payback schedule, I would have paid over $4000.
It took a meeting with a Lutheran Social Services Financial Counselor to introduce me to Exodus Lending. My initial appointment with Anna Li, the program coordinator, was amazingly hopeful. Anna took all of my information during our meeting and gave me clear instructions regarding what I needed to do to enroll in the program. As a fairly emotional person, I appreciated Anna’s steady, yet kind, presence.
Each step in this process caused me to wonder how anyone without an advocate’s guidance and assurance could ever navigate this process.
Exodus Lending paid off my balance of $997.97 in full. My payments are approximately $88 a month for about a year. Additionally, I can qualify for monetary incentives by continuing to meet with Lutheran Social Services. Though the incentives are generous, they pale in comparison to the very basic service Exodus Lending provides; face-to-face, non-shaming problem-solving through clear and empowering instructions on how to escape the predatory lending system, and of course an interest-free loan that set me free.
I have learned a lot through this whole process. Before, I was doubting my abilities to ever rise above a paycheck-to-paycheck reality and had accepted the narrative that I had achieved all that was within reach for me financially.
Every step I’ve taken since Lutheran Social Services pointed me to Exodus Lending, has led me to where I am today – not even a year later. Exodus Lending offered me an opportunity to breathe and pause. I have now begun preparing for the purchase of a home for my family; a reality I never thought possible.
My narrative has shifted because of empowering voices from organizations like Exodus Lending that fully embrace the truth that as a community we are only as strong as our weakest neighbor.
Together, we can lift and empower our neighbor, and thus build a stronger community filled with possibilities and hope. Thank you.