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Spotlight: Payday loan industry and critics' demands for change

How desperate are many Americans for a short-term loan to cover basic living expenses?

Here's an indication: The so-called payday loan industry and the term "billions" are frequently linked in the same sentence. In fact, a recent New York Times article references a $46 billion market that caters to individuals and families nationally who badly need quick infusions of cash.

What is truly sad is that, while many such loans are applied toward living necessities in the first instance, subsequent installments often go toward servicing the loan debt incurred.

And that is a sure and obvious recipe for disaster. President Obama calls it "a vicious cycle of debt" that urgently needs addressing, adding recently that payday lenders "need to find a new way of doing business."

Those actors certainly won't give up their business models willingly, given estimates that the interest on their loans can sometimes exceed 400 percent.

Proliferating stories of financial woe and flat-out tragedy associated with such loans, though, might force the hand of payday lenders, requiring them to at least soften some of the lending provisions that many critics across the country charge as being markedly callous.

In fact, the ball might already be rolling on change, with reform signals appearing last month pursuant to newly proposed regulations offered up by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

That entity has the hard task of balancing the need for payday lending adjustments to better protect consumers and the necessity of keeping alternative lending channels open to a consumer base that cannot always obtain credit through mainstream lending outlets.

At this point, the proposals are, well, just proposals. Given the growing crescendo demanding reform, though, it seems likely that some change will be forthcoming in the payday loan industry.

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