The once-explosive growth of instant payday loan stores in Utah — which often offer two-week loans for a whopping 500 percent annual interest rate — appears to have hit a saturation point and cooled.
The number of such lenders grew only 4.7 percent in the past two years, from 427 to 447 stores, according to the Utah Division of Financial Institutions.
That is much slower growth than in recent decades. The first payday cash advance lender appeared in Utah in 1984. Their number had grown to 17 stores in the Salt Lake area by 1994. Then they exploded to 427 registered statewide in 2005.
The current total of 447 is still more than the number of 7-Elevens, McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s in Utah — combined.
The industry and its critics disagree whether slower growth comes because it is maturing and reaching a saturation point, or if restrictions on them by a growing number of cities are also slowing growth.
“We are just seeing a maturing in the industry. People who watch the industry said that it would be maturing and reaching a plateau. That is what is happening,” said Cort Walker, spokesman for the payday loan industry’s Utah Consumer Lending Association.
Jerry Jaramillo, supervisor of savings and loans and trusts for the Division of Financial Institutions, said the growth of providers of faxless payday loans over the past two years is similar to growth shown by other financial institutions such as banks or savings and loans, which tend to mirror population growth.
A critic of the industry, Linda Hilton, director of the Coalition of Religious Communities, said another reason for slower growth may be that more cities have restricted how many payday loan stores they will allow, often preventing any new stores in their boundaries.
“There are definitely fewer places, at least in Salt Lake County, where they can open and do business, and that may be a factor,” she said. Cities that have at least some restrictions on new payday loan stores include Draper, Midvale, Orem, Sandy, South Salt Lake, South Jordan, Taylorsville, West Jordan and West Valley City.
Leaders in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County also have been discussing restrictions.
Walker dismisses city cash advance restrictions as a reason for slowed growth.
“It just hampers a consumer’s ability to find the most convenient location,” he said. “What should be disconcerting is that the fewer the lenders that are present, the fewer the choices consumers have. As competition is limited, that is bad for consumers.”