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At the Top of the List for Small Claims Court Cases in Utah: Title Loans

Year after year, millions of Americans find themselves in a position where they have a low cash flow and are not financially secure. In this instance, most people will take out some kind of short-term, high-interest loan like a title loan.

These types of loans are attractive to borrowers because they can get money fast and they don’t have to spend years repaying the debt. However, with the interest rate often in three-digit numbers, a one time loan is not very likely. 

One state in America has had several studies conducted on the number of small claims court cases that involve high-cost lenders. The state of Utah has been analyzed and provides an excellent example of what potential consequences might be for taking out a title loan.

What Is a High-Cost Lender?

A high-cost lender refers to any business that lends out money intending to ask for a substantial interest rate and numerous fees from the borrower. In many cases, the yearly interest rate for a high-cost loan is at least 300%, possibly more in some cases. 

They draw people in by offering quick cash and short repayment terms, making them attractive to borrowers who are in desperate need of cash. The worst part about high-cost loans is the fact that once you get started with them, it’s hard to stop needing them.

Small Claims Court Cases in Utah

During the analysis of Utah’s small claims court cases, it was determined that:

  • High-cost lenders, like title loan and payday loan lenders, took up more than 50% of cases. 
  • In fact, 68% of all the small claims cases in Utah involved title loan lenders like Loans for Less, TitleMax, and 1st Choice Money.
  • It was also found that these high-cost lenders were incredibly active and aggressive, creating a lawsuit for even the smallest amounts, and taking much longer to reach a verdict than other plaintiffs.
  • The median debt that title loan companies sued was $994, which is about one-third of the median amount, $2,875, that other plaintiffs sued for. 
  • The average length of the case for high-cost lenders is at least 8 months, which is double the amount of time for other lawsuits.
  • According to Dwayne Dumesle of Titlelo, a title loan lender in Utah, “high-cost lenders are also more likely to seek out arrest warrants from the small-claims judge. At least three out of ten high-cost lenders would request a bench warrant for the arrest of the borrower”. It is estimated that small claims judges issue around 3,100 bench warrants each year, accounting for 91% of all warrants issued.

Small claims court was designed to provide access to justice for Americans who can’t afford a lawsuit at a full-service court. 

Now, these services are being used by lenders who are trying to collect triple-digit interest payments from people who can’t afford it.

High-Cost Lenders Make Up Majority of Small Claims Cases

To estimate the amount of Utah small claims cases that were started by high-cost lenders, one study took a look at a sample of 377 cases. 

  • Out of these cases, 247 of them were initiated by high-cost lenders. That means only 130 cases were started by medical providers, community banks, credit unions, retail stores, and some individuals. 
  • Across the entire state of Utah, 21,653 small claims cases were scheduled during the studied year. Out of this number, 14,777 cases were for high-cost lenders. There were more than six-dozen different high-cost lender companies suing their customers. 

These numbers prove that payday lenders, title loan lenders, and other kinds of high-cost loan businesses have begun to take over small claims courts.

High-Cost Lenders Are More Aggressive Than Other Plaintiffs

The debt amount sought out by high-cost lenders is generally in low amounts. 

  • Plaintiffs that are not high-cost lenders have a median amount of about $2,875, while high-cost lenders have a medium amount of $994 sought in debt. This is almost three times less than other plaintiffs.
  • In the low range, high-cost lenders sued their customers for $640 and less. 75% will sue for a debt of $1,731 or less. This is close to one-third of the 75% of other plaintiffs at $5,738.
  • Although high-cost lenders will sue for lower amounts, their lawsuits last twice as long as the other cases do. The median number of days that a high-cost lawsuit lasts is 259 days or about 8 and a half months. Other cases last for a median of about 122 days or about 4 months.

High-Cost Lenders Get Arrest Warrants More Often

  • High-cost lenders have requested arrest warrants for their customers in about 28% of their lawsuits. This is four times the amount that other plaintiffs seek arrest warrants, which is only 7% of their cases.
  • For every 10 cases brought to small claims court by high-cost lenders, they will request an arrest warrant for 3 cases. Other plaintiffs will request an arrest warrant less than 1 time out of 10 cases. 
  • An estimated 3,100 arrest warrants were issued to high-cost lenders, making up 91% of all warrants issued. Out of the arrest warrants, only 17 people were jailed over 12 months.

Do Some Courts See More High-Cost Lender Cases?

  • Three of the most popular small claims courts for high-cost lenders are in South Ogden, Midvale, and West Valley City. In South Ogden, 95% of their small claims cases were brought to them by just one company.
  • It has been reported that cities with higher average incomes had very little or no high-cost loan cases pending. Middle to lower-income areas has a higher concentration of pending high-cost loan cases.

Conclusion

Although small claims courts were created to make it easier for individuals to file suits at a lower cost than a full-service court, it seems that in Utah these courts are used for something else. High-cost lenders have taken over small claims courts with lawsuits of their customers.

High-cost lenders are starting to become a major burden on the court system in Utah. With 68% of small claims cases being initiated by these types of lenders, it is taking away the time needed by other types of plaintiffs.

High-cost lender cases take way longer to close than other cases, so not only do these cases take the available time away from other plaintiffs, they take double the amount of time for the cases to be closed.

More arrest warrants are requested by high-cost lenders than all other types of plaintiffs combined, taking time from law enforcement who might need to be doing something more important than arresting people for loan services.

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At the Top of the List for Small Claims Court Cases in Utah: Title Loans