Data on how frequently borrowers take out payday loans in Oklahoma, their average amount of indebtedness and other data was once public information until the Florida company that maintains the state’s payday lending database lobbied to have much of the information exempt from the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
Under Oklahoma law, payday lenders have to subscribe to a statewide database that tracks the lending activity of borrowers in the state. Lenders use the database to ensure borrowers have no more than two outstanding loans at any time, as well as to track loan defaults and other data. The database is maintained by the Florida-based company Veritec Solutions LLC.
In 2012, the Oklahoma Legislature passed Senate Bill 1082, which made all information in the state’s payday lending database confidential and exempt from disclosure under the Oklahoma Open Records act, according to the language of the bill.
State Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, one of the sponsors of the bill, said he was approached by Oklahoma City attorney Richard Mildren in 2012, a lobbyist for Veritec, about carrying the legislation. The bill was presented to Dorman as a matter of protecting the sensitive personal information of borrowers, he said.
As recently as 2011, Veritec published an annual 16-page report that contained detailed data on trends in Oklahoma’s payday lending, including the average number of times consumers used payday loans, average amount of indebtedness, as well as charts and graphs that showed data such as transaction volume by month and other data.
Because of the change in state law, Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit, the agency that regulates payday lenders in the state, would release only a one-page summary of data to The Oklahoman from the Veritec database for each year requested. The data the agency will now release includes number of payday lenders in the state, number and dollar amount of payday loans taken out in the state annually, amount of finance charges and other basic information.
Dorman said that the bill was not intended to help payday lenders evade scrutiny.
“If that’s an issue, it certainly needs to be addressed; that was not the intent of the legislation,” Dorman said. “If the industry is using this as some type of shield, then that needs to be fixed.”
But the Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit has never released underlying consumer information about borrowers from the database, such as the names, addresses and other personal information about borrowers, said Roy John Martin, general counsel for the Department of Consumer Credit.
“We wouldn’t provide anything that identified a particular borrower,” Martin said.
Using open records request, information from Oklahoma’s payday lending database has been used for reports on payday lending activity by the Pew Charitable Trust and the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending that showed the industry in a negative light.