The Human Face of Payday Lending

ACORN ACORN International Canada Citizen Wealth Financial Justice

Little Rock    People can read the reports of banks cutting back on small business lending, nod, and say, but, hey, I don’t have a small business. Others can understand that banks make even fewer small personal loans and have surrendered that market to payday lenders and other predatory shysters, and say, hey, it will never happen to me, while ignoring that it is likely neighbors, relatives, and friends walking through the door of these shops that are growing like weeds along the sidewalks of our neighborhoods.

Recently in a story in the Ottawa Citizen, the reporter put a human face on ACORN’s campaign there for tougher regulations, higher licensing fees, and a ban on new stores in close proximity to existing locations.


“When chronic illness forced Robbie McCall to quit his job as a heavy equipment operator, he was living comfortably in a three-bedroom home with a finished basement.

His only daughter, now an adult, was attending private school.

McCall, 47, had been a customer at his local bank since he was seven years old — almost 40 years. He had his mortgage with them and had used bank loans to pay for his vehicles.

He owed $2,100 on his credit card and had overdraft protection.

But after his illness, his regular paycheques became welfare and disability cheques so he decided to explain his circumstances to the bank.

“I thought it was better to be honest with them because I wanted to stay in good standing,” he said.

In short order, he says the bank cancelled his credit card and the first time he went over his overdraft limit, they cancelled his overdraft protection. Crucially, they slapped a 10-day hold on personal cheques he received from family and friends.

Angry and in need of fast cash to pay his bills, he turned to one of the many payday loan outlets near his home in Vanier. He says they charged an $18 fee to cash his Ontario government cheques and gave him separate $100 loans.

At one point, he said the fast-cash operator charged him $193 interest and fees on a $300 loan.

Two years later, McCall’s bank had reclaimed his house and he was living in one room at the rear of a Montreal strip club. He said he was permanently broke, medicated for depression and unable to pay the money he owed.


It hurts to hear this story, but an independent study done by a lawyer at ACORN’s request found this is pretty much standard operating procedure. He found in the heavily French, lower income community of Ottawa called Vanier, “…there are 16 payday outlets in Vanier — about one for every 1,000 Vanier residents — and eight of them are within 1,000 metres of each other on Montreal Road. That’s 16 times the provincial average and 24 times the national average.” Name the country and this would be duplicated many, many times. Furthermore, its different from state to state, province to province. In Ontario, interest can soar to 600% for payday sharks, while next door in Quebec the cap is 35%.

There’s not a happy ending to this story, but at least in McCall’s case there were hard lessons. According to the Citizen:


“Robbie McCall said after two years dealing with payday operators, his family helped him pay his bills on the promise he would never borrow from the outlets again.

“It was like a monster out of control,” he said. “I was so embarrassed — my pride wouldn’t allow me to talk to anyone about it. You know that commercial where a guy jumps on your back to symbolize debt? Well, that’s exactly how I felt. It was crushing me.”

McCall, who in the past year says he has been able to move into a one-bedroom apartment and slightly improve his financial situation, warns anyone he meets to stay away from payday loan vendors.

“Never, never, never,” he said. “Underline it and put it in bold capitals. You’ve got to find a better way.”