Early Tuesday, in the basement of a church as the rain fell outside, Elliott Clark, 65, trashed the grocery store of needy families and spoke of people thinking he was stupid.
“Oh, I was called stupid, and they say I should have read the fine print,” Clark said. “But they didn’t walk in my shoes. What choice did I have? I needed the money.
The Kansas City man’s story dates back to 2003, when his wife fell and broke her ankle. She couldn’t work. His job as a security guard couldn’t keep up with the bills. So he did what many did: borrow money from payday loan companies.
Over the next five years, those five short-term loans of $ 500 each would cost him over $ 50,000 in interest.
“I had nowhere to go,” said Clark. “I had a family, a daughter in college, bills to pay. … I am an honest man.
He stopped himself.
“These places shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s just glorified loan sharking.
Clark, who dropped out of high school at 17 to join the Marines and fought in Vietnam, will tell his story Thursday at the Moral Economics Summit at Rockhurst University.
The event, sponsored by Communities Creating Opportunities, will discuss predatory lending as well as full employment, fair credit and the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States.
The summit comes just weeks after authorities indicted a Leawood man in a federal crackdown on payday lenders who prey on the poor by charging interest rates sometimes exceeding 700%. Scott Tucker, who is also a racing car driver, has denied the charges.
Eric Liu, writer, professor and former member of the Clinton administration, will deliver the summit’s opening speech. He said Clark’s experience with payday loans is a reminder that the economy is rigged to serve the few.
“Everyday Americans have a rough deal,” Liu said Monday of the University of Washington Law School, where he teaches. “People not only feel rushed by the economy, but also cheated. “
This sense of being disenfranchised has helped garner many followers for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Liu said, as well as movements like the tea party, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter.
Critics say governments at the federal and state levels are also to blame for allowing the practice of troubleshooting to continue.
Clark shared his story on Tuesday while working as a volunteer in the pantry at St. Therese Little Flower Parish.
The only part he pulled out was Vietnam, where he served as a team leader. There was a time, he said, when he would wake up from a deep sleep shouting in Vietnamese. The counseling helped her post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I would like to gloss over this if we could,” he said.
But of his time in the Marine Corps, he said, he served “eight years, six months and 19 days – and proud of every moment.”
After his wife’s injury and medical bills hit $ 22,000, Clark was unable to get a bank loan with a credit score of 610. The loans he eventually received from payday companies quickly grew. an act of juggling.
With payments due every two weeks, he would pay off a $ 500 note with $ 95 in interest. At the same time, he would often take another $ 500 loan and go to the next place and do the same until all five were paid.
He would lose the $ 475 in interest. And he would also face new loans to come. This scheme lasted for five years until he received disability benefits from Veterans Affairs and Social Security. These sums allowed him to finally repay the entire debt.
“And I certainly did not go back to those places,” he said.
He and Aquila lost their home during this time. Today, married for 32 years, they rent a house.
Things are better these days because the poor have more options when it comes to borrowing small amounts of money, he said. But still, he said, about four in ten people who walk into the pantry can tell a sad story about payday loans.
“… I have no problem with companies making a profit but not taking advantage of someone who is on their last legs,” he said.
“We are our brother’s keeper. We are all a family.
This story originally appeared on kansascity.com.
This story was originally published May 18, 2016 12:47 p.m.