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Can Catholic social teaching redeem a post-Trump, pro-labor Republican Party?



Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable. The Republican Party had spent years crowing about the achievements of entrepreneurs, while advising ordinary workers to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” Times have changed, however. Quite recently, the right-of-center think tank American Compass, established in 2020,posted “A Guide to Economic Inequality” on the main page of its website. Its founders are not dismissing the problem. Instead, they tell readers that “our economy is failing to spread prosperity” and “our gains are not being widely shared.” The warnings get even more dire. “The longer such trends continue,” warns American Compass, “the greater the threat to our social fabric, our political solidarity, and the legitimacy of our free-market system.”

American Compassis directed by Oren Cass, a former advisor to Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah. He and a growing number of conservatives have become increasingly concerned about the future of American blue-collar labor. For some time now, the Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been speaking and writing publicly about the “dignity of labor,” often citing Catholic labor encyclicals in his public speeches. In March, Mr. Rubio publicly supported a drive to unionize Amazon warehouse employees, though he wrote that he was doing so because “companies like Amazon have been allies of the left in the culture war” and were implementing “‘woke’ human resources” policies.

So far, people like Mr. Cass and Senator Rubio seem to be groping for ways in which conservatives can make a better pitch to the American worker. To a great extent though, this is true of American politicians in general. Labor in the United States has changed radically in the past couple of decades, with concerns about wages and working conditions increasingly overshadowed by fears of being cut loose entirely by employers without warning. There is an opportunity for either party to position itself as being more responsive to the priorities of working families.

There is an opportunity for either party to position itself as being more responsive to the priorities of working families.

Many on the left are deeply skeptical of conservatives and Republicans who call themselves “pro-labor.” That is unsurprising, as the Republican Party has had a hostile relationship with American labor for several decades. But the antagonism has not always been so deep. Calvin Coolidge, a Republican hero, was the first U.S. president to sign legislation giving workers the right to organize. Great 20th-century labor leaders like Samuel Gompers and George Meany worked closely with the political right, especially in opposing communism. Through the 1970s, it was common for urban districts to elect pro-labor Republicans like Jacob Javits, the four-term Republican Senator from New York. When Javits lost his fifth re-election campaign in 1980, it was a sign of things to come. Under the Reagan administration, the Republican Party’s relationship with labor would become far more antagonistic.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers’ strike. It was an aggressive move that nevertheless secured the admiration of the right-wing base. Conservatives believed that unions had become too powerful and corrupt, with little accountability to anyone but their members. Under Reagan, free enterprise became a major component of the Republican Party’s “three-legged stool,” along with moral traditionalism and a strong emphasis on national defense. Labor unions were viewed as a drain on national prosperity, and they increasingly looked to the Democratic Party for support. In broad form, those political allegiances have largely persisted through the present day.

[Related: The fight to unionize Amazon is the most important labor story of this century]

The major labor unions in the United States have certainly been a political asset to the Democratic Party. In 2020, public-sector unions alone contributed more than $90 million to political parties and campaigns across the nation, with the overwhelming majority of that (about 90 percent) going to Democrats. Total union contributions exceeded $200 million. Many of the largest unions endorsed Joe Biden in the presidential race, though exit polls suggest that Donald Trump won about 40 percent among union members nationwide and Mr. Trump had significant grassroots support in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states traditionally associated with labor unions. The Republicans have continued to attack unions politically. Under the Obama administration, they undercut union power by passing “right to work” legislation in five more states, bringing the total to 27. These laws weaken unions by limiting their ability to collect dues from workers.

Those political dynamics could endure for some time. If the Biden administration’s fiscal decisions seem to be destabilizing the economy, the Republicans could rediscover their old enthusiasm for limited government. In that case, the right might arc back into a Tea Party-like philosophy, abandoning any serious effort to unfurl a labor agenda. Republican politicians might continue to talk about “the dignity of labor,” especially when this helps them to channel popular anger against Silicon Valley. It is also common for politicians to use labor concerns as a noble-sounding excuse for lavishing tax breaks on corporate friends. (Recall President Trump’s effort to “save jobs” at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis by offering the company $7 million in incentives. Job creation can often provide a convenient excuse for showering benefits on the already-wealthy.) It is understandable that some see labor-interested Republicans as scavengers, pillaging the flotsam of the once-robust unions they helped to destroy.

It is also common for politicians to use labor concerns as a noble-sounding excuse for lavishing tax breaks on corporate friends.

That may be too cynical, however. Conservatives may truly get serious about the concerns of working-class voters in the years to come. They have both motive and opportunity, especially in Midwestern and Rust Belt states, where many voters are disillusioned with old political solutions and searching for new answers. By securing the loyalties of working families, the right has a chance to bolster its faltering coalition. Its countercultural message resonates with many voters in economically desiccated regions.

There are many conservatives for whom the renewed interest in labor seems to be sincere. Intellectuals like Mr. Cass clearly believe that they are charting a new course forward for conservatism, while a politician like Mr. Rubio has long shown an interest in cultural reform that transcends Reaganite limited-government principles. At gatherings of right-leaning Catholic intellectuals, “Rerum Novarum” and “Quadrigesimo Anno”are now being discussed with real enthusiasm and energy. Family policy has become a popular topic, as the rugged-individualist rhetoric of the Tea Party era fades into the background. Conversations about “the common good” are trendy once again. Social justice is no longer a taboo.

This could be a redemptive moment for the Republican Party. American workers do, after all, need help. Mr. Rubio and others have identified a worthy cause that merits serious attention. This could be the moment when the right turns a page, redirecting some of its reactionary angst toward compassionate advocacy and prudent policy. But given their strained relations with labor unions, Republicans will need to offer some game-changing new ideas if they hope to set the agenda moving forward. The challenge is formidable, but it may not be impossible, precisely because America’s labor situation has indeed changed rather markedly over the past few decades.

Workers Adrift

Historically, labor movements have focused on the relationship between workers and their employers. Collective bargaining, for example, helps workers to leverage their worth to a company or corporation for the sake of securing better wages or improved working conditions. Labor laws use the power of the state to pressure employers into maintaining certain standards with respect to employee treatment. Both of these measures help to prevent workers from getting trapped in dangerous, underpaid or soul-destroying jobs.

Poor and socially marginalized people tend to be especially vulnerable to employer exploitation, since they have few resources and feel compelled to protect at all costs the little they have.

Poor and socially marginalized people tend to be especially vulnerable to employer exploitation.

This problem was widespread in the years following industrialization, when factory production undermined skilled labor and home industry. Many workers were forced by circumstances to take whatever work was available, and for many, the obstacles to moving or re-skilling were prohibitive.

Collective bargaining helped many to negotiate for better wages and working conditions. Other exploitative practices were ended by legislation, which improved safety conditions, ended child labor and offered workers more securities against injury, illness and old age.

Exploitation is still a relevant concern today, but for many workers, oppressive bosses and inhumane working conditions may not be the most significant problem. They do not feel trapped in soul-destroying jobs. Rather, they are adrift, unprotected in a labor market that offers them plenty of freedom but little security. Relatively few workers today are pressured to endure unsafe working conditions, or to put in 70-hour weeks. Many struggle, however, to chart a career path that promises stability and financial security across a lifetime.

To some extent, this is a cost of our dynamic and ever-changing economy. At one time in history, people expected their children to follow in their own footsteps, taking over the family business or farm, or learning their parents’ trade. By the mid-20th century, this was less common, but it was normal for an adult to remain with one company for almost his entire working life. Pension plans and other retirement benefits were often created with that expectation. In the United States today, though, the average worker will hold at least 12 different jobs across his life. The median amount of time a worker has been with his current employer is just over four years. People often worry whether their profession will even exist long enough to support their children through high school.

Obviously, these uncertainties can be destabilizing for all families and communities, but poor and socially marginalized people pay the heaviest price.

At all socioeconomic levels, people must live with the expectation that they will likely need to change jobs or acquire new skills from time to time. We have accepted these costs, in general, as the price of widespread wealth and opportunity. For advantaged people, economic change creates anxiety, but the consequences are rarely catastrophic. Those in a relatively advantaged situation have created a number of social mechanisms to track and reward personal stability, enabling them to maintain their status and lifestyle across periods of economic turbulence.

For advantaged people, economic change creates anxiety, but the consequences are rarely catastrophic.

We lean on these mechanisms regularly, often with very little thought. If I need a loan, a bank will check my credit score to see whether I have reliably paid my bills. My college diploma proves to an employer that I am the sort of person who can spend four years writing papers and passing tests. As we move through our adult lives, a résumé becomes the magical key that opens professional doors. If a company folds or a job becomes obsolete, an established track record of employment may persuade other companies to hire an established worker. None of these mechanisms guarantee a trouble-free life, but they do help certain workers to ensure that they will have options. Instead of forging a lifelong relationship with a given employer, an advantaged worker builds up a personal reputation for himself, documenting his desirability as an employee, client or business partner in ways that prospective associates can verify.

Mechanisms like credit scores and résumé can serve many good ends, but they also have the effect of concentrating privilege. Almost no one becomes an educated, financially stable adult without considerable help. It is much easier to build credit if parents, siblings or friends are able to offer short-term loans at need, helping to avoid late payments on bills. Without significant support from family, young people may find it prohibitively difficult to complete a four-year degree program or to take advantage of valuable volunteer opportunities. A good word from a family friend can be invaluable for getting a young person her first job. In myriad ways, we have built a world in which the stable get more stable, while the unstable get battered by every passing wave. The latter need more help, but the problem is more diffuse than exploitation by employers. They are struggling with structural disadvantages that may make it prohibitively difficult to find a foothold in a contemporary workforce.

A person with bad credit or nontraditional credentials can still make valuable contributions to society, but a human resources department may only see the risks. To overcome this problem, we need to do a better job of preparing people from all backgrounds for stable employment. We alsoneed to motivateemployers to think more creatively, finding new ways to tap the potential of underdeveloped workers. Our existing union structure may not be optimal for pursuing these particular goals, as unions specialize in serving the needs of people who already have stable employment.

Pro-Labor Conservatives

Protecting workers against exploitation is still a worthy goal. It needs to be balanced, however, against the need to create better jobs for a wide range of people. Can the Republicans devise a policy approach that balances both goals? Already, this is an active concern for politicians like Mr. Rubio and for intellectuals like Mr. Cass. Some of their ideas are interesting, and there is potential here for a healthy form of political rivalry, as the right and left both scramble to generate effective labor policy. Prudent reform will be possible, however, only if conservative politicians can resist the populist right’s more vengeful impulses. That may prove difficult.

Many pro-labor conservatives want to motivate corporations to invest more resources toward employees. They rail against “shareholder primacy,arguing that American workers are suffering from decreased opportunity and stagnant wages, owing in part to a financial system that motivates corporations to prioritize the demands of their shareholders. This may not even be good for the companies themselves over the long run. Workers, argued Mr. Cass in a recent essay in Politico, are more interested in the company’s long-term viability. Shareholders mainly want to make some quick cash.

Prudent reform will be possible, however, only if conservative politicians can resist the populist right’s more vengeful impulses. That may prove difficult.

This is an intriguing argument. It may not be entirely true. It is encouraging nonetheless to see conservatives making a serious effort to reassess our financial practices, considering who does and does not benefit from modern commerce. If the Republicans can generate serious recommendations for worker-friendly tax reform, for example, that might create a foundation for a new kind of labor policy.

Job training is another major focus for pro-labor conservatives. Mr. Cass argues in his book The Once and Future Worker that it is unfair to give massive public subsidies to our universities without offering alternatives to young people who are not interested in, or suited for, college. Need-based college scholarships have existed for decades, but four-year colleges still disproportionately attract students from privileged backgrounds. By investing more in trade schools and other credentialing opportunities, we can open a wider range of options to students from less-advantaged backgrounds. We can help struggling workers by opening more opportunities for “earned success,” ideally at a stage of life where it can make a significant difference.

Pro-labor conservatives are also becoming more interested in unions, albeit in a modified form. Mr. Cass regularly discusses alternative union models like northern Europe’s “Ghent system,” under which unions run unemployment insurance programs, and sectoral unions that represent entire industries. It may seem that Republicans are just re-inventing the wheel here, proposing new unions in hope that these will be less hostile to them politically. But even if this is true, it might be healthy to have a public debate about the merits of different models of unionization. Sometimes re-invented wheels are needed when the old ones start to creak.

Building a worker-friendly economy is a slow and difficult job. Stoking the rage and resentment of disaffected voters is much easier.

All of these ideas have potential. Some may be genuinely transformative. Before any policy agenda can take root, however, the Republicans will need leaders who can focus on the common good. The former president Donald Trump had an impressive talent for making disaffected workers feel heard, but while in office he repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to mortgage long-term goals for short-term populist approval. Building a worker-friendly economy is a slow and difficult job. Stoking the rage and resentment of disaffected voters is much easier.

Even if Trump’s own political career is finished, his brand of politics may not be. Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, presents himself as a pro-labor conservative, but his speeches are filled with the embittered rhetoric of class warfare. Where Mr. Rubio touts the benefits of worker-friendly investment, Mr. Hawley preaches darkly about the unpatriotic plutocrats who have decimated the “great American middle.” In his narrative, American prosperity is being sapped by the privilege and indifference of educated elites. Each evening on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Fox News host offers a similar message, telling more than four million viewers about the evils of the “cosmopolitan elites” who, in his narrative, have ransacked the American heartland.

Politicians have often used class resentment as a spur to labor reform. After the events of last January, though, is it reasonable to worry whether the populist right’s destructive impulses may overwhelm everything else in the Republican Party. Do conservatives really wish to reform fiscal policy and build trade schools, or will they be content to vilify Big Tech and destroy universities? Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to devise prudent policy that addresses the real needs of marginalized people. The challenges are especially intense in a politically polarized environment, where there is little trust between employers and workers. Intellectuals like Mr. Cass seem to understand this, but his mild-mannered advocacy may not electrify the right-wing base as effectively as Carlson’s angry populism.

Still, we can hope. There are reasons why the political right has attracted more support in the heartland in recent years. Conservatives may not speak the language of exploitation, but they have a particular attachment to those elemental goods that make life meaningful for ordinary people. Hearth, home, tradition and family are all central to conservative patterns of thought. Conservatives can relate to the anguish workers feel when those things seem to be slipping away from them. When working class voters move right, this is generally a sign that a society’s farmers, mechanics and factory workers are concerned about the difficulty of passing on the customs, creeds and cultural mores that have made life meaningful for them. Now it is up to the Republican Party to answer those concerns in a constructive way that genuinely supports the common good.

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Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.

The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”

The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.

In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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Bad Credit

What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?



Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Bad Credit

Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune



By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit and or email; you also can follow her on Facebook ( and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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