Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring vowed Friday to crack down on unscrupulous car-title loan companies, taking aim at an industry that increasingly has replaced payday lenders and is a growing presence in parts of Northern Virginia.
Standing in front of a recently opened car-title loan company on Route 1 in Fairfax County, Herring (D) said many such businesses engage in predatory lending, charging interest rates to customers as high as 300 percent.
Those rates “are trapping a lot of people in a cycle of debt that they can’t get out of,” Herring said at a joint news conference with state Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax).
The loans — in which people sign over their car titles as collateral — are legal in Virginia. But Herring said some of the lending is “pernicious.”
“They’re hurting Virginians, and we need to do more about it,” he said.
Robert Reich, who is listed as president of the American Association of Responsible Lenders, a car-title loan company trade group, did not return a phone message seeking comment.
There are 466 car-title loan outfits in Virginia, according to the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Many opened after the state began to limit the frequency of payday loans in 2009.
Car-title lending was officially sanctioned in the state the following year.
In 2011, the General Assembly passed a law that allows the industry to lend to customers arriving from out of state, sparking an additional wave of car-title loan companies in Northern Virginia.
Despite the high interest rates, the loans are often appealing to individuals with poor credit histories and in need of quick cash. Herring’s office said there has been a surge in defaults on car-title loans in Virginia, amounting to 19,368 cars being repossessed last year.
The industry’s increasing presence along Route 1 and some other lower-income areas of Fairfax County has triggered greater efforts to regulate car-title loan companies.
This year, Herring reorganized his office’s Consumer Protection Division to focus more on predatory lending. That move has led to greater cooperation with federal authorities and has resulted in lawsuits filed by the state against two Fredericksburg-area pawn shops that allegedly made car-title loans without licenses to do so, officials said.
Meanwhile, Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is preparing to vote in the fall on an ordinance that would limit the presence of car-title loan companies in certain neighborhoods, including areas close to houses of worship and schools.
“These businesses prey on vulnerable people,” said county Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), who co-sponsored that measure. “The state needs to cap interest rates and restrict title loans to Virginia cars only, at a minimum, or we will continue to see these sprout up everywhere.”
Surovell, whose district includes the Route 1 corridor, said he also wants to place restrictions on the types of loans that car-title loan companies are allowed to make.
And a candidate for the Arlington County Board, Democrat Christian Dorsey, said this week that if elected he would try to shut down a car-title loan company that is located on land that may be acquired by Arlington as part of a proposed land swap.
Both Surovell and Herring are also candidates in upcoming political races. Surovell is running against Dumfries Mayor Gerald Foreman, a Republican, to fill the state Senate seat being vacated by retiring state Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller (D-Fairfax).
Herring announced last week that he would seek a second term as attorney general in 2017.