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Article Details ‘Aggressive’ Collection Practices That Put People in Jail

After chronicling how individuals with unpaid medical debts in Kansas are put in jail for missing court dates, ProPublica has turned its sights westward, and published an article about individuals in Utah who are being jailed because they are missing court dates related to unpaid payday loans.

High-interest lenders accounted for two-thirds of all small claims cases heard between September 2017 and September 2018, according to the article. Lenders are often left with no resort but to sue individuals for unpaid debts because those individuals do not make payments or otherwise communicate with the lender about their situations.

If and when a lender obtains a judgment against an individual, the individuals are expected to appear before a judge to answer questions about their incomes and assets. If they do not show up for the supplemental hearing, a bench warrant can be issued, which leads to those individuals being arrested. Warrants were issued in about 3,100 small claims cases during the year-long period that was studied by a team led by a law professor from the University of Utah. More than 90% of the warrants that were issued related back to payday loans, title loans, or other high-interest loans. ProPublica analyzed a sample of the cases and identified 17 individuals who were put in jail after a bench warrant was issued.

An employee for one payday lender says the company only sues “the ones who have taken the money and ran” and have “no intention” of paying it back.

It’s impossible not to feel empathy for the individuals who are profiled in the article. People go through hard times and have to make difficult decisions. But the article makes it seem as though either the lenders should not be trying to collect money that is legitimately owed to them. These articles are great at exposing the problem, but do not offer any solutions.

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