Protesters gather in Winchester to oppose interest rates that can be three times higher than in other states.

While the predatory loans exist throughout the United States, consumer protections vary wildly from state to state. But Virginia’s are particularly weak.

Hundreds of thousands of Virginians take out these loans every year, and can end up paying up to three times more for credit than borrowers in other states, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In it researchers write that Virginia is one of only six states without any limit on interest rates for lines of credit, and is one of only 11 states with no cap on interest rates over $2,500. As many as one out of every eight title loan borrowers in Virginia has a vehicle repossessed each year.

It isn’t just the state government that is failing to protect the public from predatory loans. The federal government was set to require payday lenders check that borrowers can actually pay back their loans, but then-Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Mick Mulvaney delayed and ultimately scrapped the Obama-era rule.

As a result, payday loans are easier than ever to get, but can be exceedingly difficult to pay off. The Center for Responsible Lending profiled one man who ended up paying about $5,000 in interest for an initial loan of $300. 

The increase in payday loans has led to increased scrutiny from consumer advocates. Last week, a group of protesters gathered in Winchester to demonstrate against Virginia’s lax loan system. The Virginia Poverty Law Center said they organized the protest to call more attention to the issue and encourage the General Assembly to add new protections. They met in front of the local branch of Advance America, one of the nation’s largest payday loan lenders.

Jamshid Bakhtiari, the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s consumer advocacy campaign coordinator, said the organization’s goal isn’t to put Advance America and other lenders out of business.

“We’re only asking them to be fair,” he told the Winchester Star. “If they’re able to operate in Ohio and Colorado at one-third the interest rate that they’re operating under in Virginia, there’s no reason why they can’t change their rates.”

Correction: This story incorrectly identified the organization that produced the payday loan research. It is the Pew Charitable Trusts.