FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WUSA9) -- Nearly 20,000 people in Virginia, Maryland and D.C., who took out loans from Virginia car title lenders last year, had their cars repossessed. Critics call the businesses "predatory" lenders who prey on poor and desperate people.
Colorful signs promising cash on the spot are luring in more people, but many are winding up in trouble and are unable to pay off the loans from car title lenders who charge interest rates as high as 268 percent.
"You need to read the fine print, very, very, very carefully," said Leah Richards who said she took out an $800 loan a year ago from Title Max to pay for an old car she bought for only $1,300.
Richards, who is on disability and in the hospital, said she doesn't have the $149 monthly payment.
"When they handed me the contract, and I saw $149, I was like, ‘Oh my God, $149!' And they're like, (counting the money) ‘one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight hundred dollars. Here you go.' And I was like, I was to the point to where…I'll get it back somehow," Richards said.
She didn't. Now, she may soon join a growing number of desperate people who've had their cars repossessed in Virginia.
According to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, in 2014, 38,286 people defaulted on their car title loans, 19,368 cars were repossessed and 14,949 were sold at auction. Interest rates ranged from 84 percent to 268 percent, and the average APR was 222 percent. In all, there was $40 million of defaulted loans or about 25 percent of the total loans make, according to Del. Scott Surovell (D-44th District).
"Sadly, Virginia is becoming the Predatory Lending Capital of the East Coast," said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
Hering and Surovell said the laws need to change.
"This is a problem and it's out of control," said Surovell. "These predatory lenders, they target the military, they target low income families, they target people who are not native speakers, and they target people from other states….This business is not allowed in D.C. or Maryland at these kinds of interest rates. It's bad and it's got to stop."
In 2011, Virginia's legislature made it legal for car title lending businesses to use out of the state titles as collateral for their loans. Since then, the Route One Corridor has seen an explosion in the business. The business allows people to trade their car titles for loans.