Lauren Mills

Recent Stories

Parents Can Be At Risk When Filling A Federal Student Aid Gap


Parents who take out loans to help their kids pay growing student tuitions may end up in financial straits, with debts growing quickly with each student. If parents don’t plan for college expenses, they can face decreased disposable income and having to skimp on retirement savings in order to pay home mortgages and student loan debts, experts said in interviews with IowaWatch. “As parents pay for their house and pay, or help pay, for their kid’s college, if they sign loans for one or two or however many kids, it could delay their retirement,” said Carol Jensen, author of "College Financial Aid: Highlighting the Small Print of Student Loans." Families often turn to private loans that parents co-sign or to federal parent PLUS loans taken out in a parent’s name when grants, scholarships and federal student loans aren’t enough to cover college costs. “Parents are the only ones left to pick up the tab. Continue Reading →

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Federal Action Against Payday Loans Is Picking Up


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has begun acting to rein in abuse, producing a report critical of the industry and requiring two payday businesses to provide refunds and pay million-dollar fines. The bureau also is drafting rules that could provide further protections for consumers. Continue Reading →

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


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. Continue Reading →

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Alternatives To Payday Loans Exist

The sign for Easy Cash Solutions and the neighboring store, EZ Pawn, on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids is pictured on February 26.

Some financial institutions, banks and credit unions in Iowa are trying to create alternatives to payday loans and help people who are unbanked open accounts. The program provides second-chance bank accounts and small dollar loans. Continue Reading →

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High-Interest Payday Loans Called Predatory, But Regulations Die In Iowa Legislature

Easy Cash Solutions, on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids, is pictured on February 26

Brian Curtis took out his first payday loan when he was 19. It took more than a decade before he got out from under it and the climbing interest payments that followed. “It’s a trap,” he said. Curtis, 37, and living in Davenport, said he had roughly $5,000 in payday loan debt after taking out loans for a $1,500 car repair while living in Florida, and then again when he moved to Missouri and needed a deposit for an apartment. Add to that more than $22,000 in interest that accrued and he said he faced a bill topping $27,000. Continue Reading →

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Iowa Chinese Students Struggle To Adjust, Feel Lack Of Support

Old Capitol photo

The University of Iowa has intensely recruited Chinese students since 2007, but has made little progress fostering their assimilation to campus life. In some respects, an IowaWatch investigation has found, the university’s practices make interactions with domestic students more difficult and increase isolation. Continue Reading →

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