August 9, 2014

How We Did This: Behind the Scenes of Iowa’s Payday Loan Trap

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A Check N Go storefront on Collins Road in Cedar Rapids is pictured on August 8.

Lauren Mills/IowaWatch

A Check N Go storefront on Collins Road in Cedar Rapids is pictured on August 8.

Research and legwork for this story began in late 2013, based on a suggestion by Charles Munro, a lecturer and associate director of undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a volunteer professional advisor for IowaWatch. As IowaWatch reporter and data analyst Lauren Mills started digging into Iowa’s payday loan industry, the story kept growing.

In trips to Davenport, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Mount Vernon and Des Moines over an eight-month period and in interviews with people across the state, Mills tracked the impacts of the payday loan industry across Iowa.

Delving into political contributions and the intricacies of the payday loan businesses in Iowa involved diving down a rabbit hole of information.

Political donors associated with the payday loan industry were identified based on classifications by the National Institute on Money in State Politics as well as by identifying owners of major payday lending businesses. IowaWatch then conducted its own research, gathering reports from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and verifying individual donors’ association with the payday loan industry.

That data turned up hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from industry-associated donors. Four donors stood out for their large contributions: Advance America Cash Advance PAC, Michael Medved, Rod Aycox and Allan Jones.

FIJ2THIS IOWAWATCH INVESTIGATION WAS SUPPORTED BY A GRANT FROM THE FUND FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

Medved, Aycox and Jones, owners of different payday loan business, were difficult to track down. Efforts to contact the three owners, including a trip to the Des Moines area to visit addresses listed on Medved’s campaign contribution records, turned up empty. Difficulties tracking down donors mirrored difficulties verifying ownership in payday loan chains, which often operate under legal but fictitious names registered under limited liability corporations.

With legislation to further regulate payday lenders languishing in the Iowa Statehouse, “Iowa’s Payday Loan Trap” looks at what is going on behind the scenes and what can be done to help consumers trapped in a cycle of debt.

We would like to thank the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which supported travel, staff and records expenses for this story through a $2,500 grant.

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MAIN STORY:
HIGH-INTEREST PAYDAY LOANS CALLED PREDATORY, BUT REGULATIONS DIE IN IOWA LEGISLATURE
SIDEBAR:
ALTERNATIVES TO PAYDAY LOANS EXIST
PART TWO:
FEDERAL ACTION AGAINST PAYDAY LOANS IS PICKING UP

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