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Podcast: How a $1,000 Loan Ballooned into a $40,000 Debt

When Naya Burks was strapped for cash five years ago, she borrowed $1,000 from AmeriCash Loans at an enormously high annual interest rate of 240 percent. It wasn’t long before she defaulted on payments and AmeriCash took the opportunity to sue her – ultimately garnishing more than $5,300 from Burks’ paychecks while the loan continued to grow at the original 240 percent APR into a $40,000 debt.

ProPublica’s Paul Kiel and Steve Engelberg explain that it’s become common business practice for high-cost lenders to sue their customers; some states even charge borrowers the cost of suing them. And even when borrowers pay back their loan several times over, as in Burks’ case, they can still find themselves stuck as debtors for life – what one judge called a sort of “indentured servitude.”

“The idea that not only do you take out a loan that’s incredibly costly but there are cases in these states that I write about [where] that means that loan is always with you; even if you default, they can go to court,” Kiel said. “It’ll continue to grow at the high interest rate that you borrowed at…you’ll never be free of it, even if you’re making payments.”

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. For more on this investigation, check out Kiel’s report: When Lenders Sue, Quick Cash Can Turn Into a Lifetime of Debt.

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