Small loan alternative seminar held in Gulfport

January 24, 2014
Cecily Cummings

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation held a small loan alternative seminar Friday morning in the conference rooms of Lookout Steakhouse in Gulfport.

Participants gathered to talk about what can be done to provide alternative lending opportunities to people who are struggling financially. The meeting was an outgrowth of a similar program that was funded by the Knight Foundation.

"With the downturn of the economy, with the loss of jobs, it's a significant issue," said Rodger Wilder, president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. "Folks get into that cycle of payday loans, and they're just stuck there. So what we're doing today is trying to explore ways to develop other alternatives, to talk to other organizations that are already providing those services and to find ways that those lenders and the nonprofit communities can work together to help people get out of their financial situation."

Among those in attendance were representatives from banks, credit unions and nonprofits, who are involved in attempting to help people move into a better financial situation.

"We're not promoting any particular lending institution," Wilder said. "We're trying to encourage shared best practices."

Among the presenters was Paheadra Robinson of the Mississippi Center for Justice, who discussed how Mississippi compared to other states concerning state laws about payday lending.

"Our laws are very permissive," she said. "The payday lending industry does not have to violate laws to make a huge profit."

Robinson shared that a lack of strong regulations in the state allows the payday industry to take more from the economy than it gives back. Research stated that economic industry generated by the payday industry is less than the lost economic activity from reduced household spending due to high loan interest payments and fees.As a result, payday lending drains tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs from Mississippi each year.

Other topics of discussion included borrowing and saving, presented by Melanie Stern of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Dave Prosser of Freedom First Credit Union.

A panel discussion was moderated by Wilder.

"The fact that we're here today is recognition of a need to discuss this issue and find solutions to it," he said. "Our hope is that by then end of the day we'll find a better way to do it, and we'll have the collaboration needed to move this issue forward."