Kept secret her shame about being "duped" by a title loan company.
Pauline Charles is a resident of Baltimore City and a leader in the local IAF affiliate, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD). She lives in a tough neighborhood in east Baltimore, one of the most violent districts in Baltimore City.
BUILD organizers met Ms. Charles during a campaign to clean-up the neighborhood and address safety issues. Her community was held hostage by a local gang. People were afraid to sit on porches. Early safety meetings had to be held outside of the community because of the fear. Three years later, thanks to BUILD’s organizing work and Ms. Charles’ efforts, things have changed - the community has addressed trash and dumping, successfully fought to secure a recreation center for the neighborhood, and initiated greening efforts.
Despite her pride in her community work, Ms. Charles has a secret.
She has kept secret her shame about being "duped" by a title loan company. Ms. Charles borrowed $1,000 against her title from a company called Lomax. She became trapped in a spiral. The initial payment was $300 per month. When she fell behind, the payment went to $600. When she fell further behind, the payment ballooned to as $2,000 per month. She ended up paying back a total of $11,000 on the $1,000 loan. That is not a misprint. $11,000.
Ms. Charles speaks of the pain and embarrassment, and the impact on family relationships. "I worried myself sick. The stress was unbelievable. The loan put tremendous stress on my family relationships. I remember the day that I brought to the Lomax office a $4,000 check to pay off the loan. I looked around. There were so many innocent people. Some were elderly. It made me so sad. I wish someone had stopped me. And now it is time for us to stop them.”
Ms. Charles is wiser, but her neighborhood continues to be bombarded with offers designed to trap her and her neighbors in a spiral debt. Just last week she received a congratulatory card from First Premier Bank. She was offered a credit card with a $250 credit limit. But the card started with a $179 initiation fee. And then a $25 activation fee. And then a 20% interest rate. This was just another usury trap marketed on her street. This time, she said "no.”