"Maryland's Legal Loan Sharks" [Close to Home, Nov. 21] called for the prohibition of payday lending in Maryland. But without payday advances to help bridge financial gaps, many Marylanders will be left with only ugly choices: writing bad checks or going without necessities.

Rather than forcing Marylanders into this corner, it makes better public policy sense to regulate payday lending in the state. We at the Community Financial Services Association of America worked with lawmakers in 17 states to enact enabling legislation, and the results have been dramatic. In Tennessee, for example, the rate of consumer complaint was less than two-tenths of 1 percent out of 1.4 million transactions in 1998.

Payday advance customers on average earn between $25,000 and $45,000 a year. To qualify for an advance, they must have an active checking account and a steady income. Their reasons for needing the advance could befall any of us: unexpected car problems, a delayed paycheck, unanticipated medical expenses.

Taxpayers in states that regulate payday advances enjoy a dignified way to solve such short-term financial problems. Maryland taxpayers should have the option as well.

A. DAVID DAVIS

Washington

The writer is president of a national trade association representing the payday advance industry.