Fresh Start program frees those ensnared by payday loans

Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Fidelis Catholic Credit Union partner to provide hope

Roxanne King

After two years of struggling with homelessness and staying with relatives, when she landed a fulltime job in 2017, Judith Quintana was determined to make it on her own. She got an apartment in Federal Heights but soon found herself unable to pay the rent, so she turned to payday lenders.

Such lenders offer short-term loans, typically $500 or less, that are usually due on a person’s next payday or within a few months to a year. They are known for high interest rates and fees that often become debt traps for borrowers who may end up paying more in fees than the amount they first borrowed. Additionally, payday lenders generally don’t report to credit bureaus, so the loans don’t help to build credit. Payday loan customers frequently have multiple loans. Quintana’s loans left her overwhelmed and battle-fatigued.

“I was in a really desperate situation,” said the 65-year-old home health-care worker.

A fellow Catholic who learned of Quintana’s trouble when the two met at Eucharistic adoration referred her to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which in partnership with Fidelis Catholic Credit Union, offers a program called Fresh Start to help people in such predicaments break the cycle of debt.

“They gave me a loan to pay off all the payday loans. The rates were substantially less so I was able to make the payments and pay it off,” said Quintana, adding that she also received financial literacy coaching through the program. “It was something God put on this earth for me. It has been such a blessing.”

Through the Fresh Start program, which was launched in Denver two years ago, Fidelis will loan up to $2,000 at a low two percent interest rate due to cash collateral provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Denver Metro Council.

“We established the program to assist our neighbors in need to get out of high interest, multiple fee, payday loans that just seem to never end,” explained Steve Loftis, the society’s executive director. “We try to help them break that cycle of debt by paying off those loans with a low-interest loan that can also help them with their credit scores.”

To be eligible for the program, the borrower must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident with income greater than their expenses, Loftis said. To date, the program has made eight loans.

“They’ve all been successful,” Loftis said. “One individual who paid off her loan was then able to get a car loan on her own because of her [improved] credit score. We were pleased to hear that.”

Participants are prescreened and referred to Fidelis through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said Tedd Utzinger, Fidelis’ vice president of branch operations.

“The St. Vincent de Paul Society backs the loans with secured funds, that’s why we can provide a very good rate to these individuals,” Utzinger said. “Since we’re putting it into a complete loan it gets reported to the credit bureau. As long as they keep up with the payments it’s a positive line of credit reported to the bureau, which will help reestablish their credit. That’s their goal.”

Although Colorado now caps payday lenders interest rates at 36 percent, prior to last year the average payday loan in the state was 129 percent. Even with the new limit, such loans are designed to ensnare borrowers.

“When you see what they are paying per month and where it’s going to go, they’ll never get it paid off…there’s no hope for them,” Utzinger said. “We provide hope.”

“The credit union is here to help people,” added Justin Dickson, Fidelis’ president. “A small amount can help in a big way.”

For Quintana, the less than $2,000 Fresh Start loan was life-changing and a concrete sign of God’s loving care provided through the SVDP Society at Nativity Parish in Broomfield and the Fidelis branch at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Northglenn. She paid off her low-interest loan, has learned how to manage her finances and is rebuilding her credit.

“Fresh Start is truly a ministry of God. They are people serving God to teach and to bring hope,” Quintana said. “They weren’t ashamed of me, they were my cheerleaders.”

Quintana prays the ministry will continue for those experiencing desperation equal to and worse than what she did. Those days feel like a lifetime ago, she said.

“At night when I lay down my head I have peace — I know all is well.”

FRESH START LOAN PROGRAM
For information or to donate, call Steve Loftis at 303-960-9163

COMING UP: Vincentians’ face-to-face encounters transform community in need

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All it took was just over 500 volunteers to shape the lives of more than 20,000 individuals in need here in Colorado last year.

Those served were both families and individuals from a variety of backgrounds seeking anything from food and clothing to help with rent.

“For a lot of them, that’s their life,” said Steve Loftis, Executive Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Denver Metro Council. “They go from one resource to another seeking help.”

Fortunately for those at risk of homelessness or going through a tough time financially in the Denver area and beyond, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is there to help.

The Society has been in Denver for over a century and is currently made up of 32 conferences, all affiliated with a parish, and spanning from Loveland to El Paso County. Volunteers known as Vincentians meet individuals face-to-face to help in any way they can.

“They do the home visits,” said Loftis. “They’ll interview a family or an individual and see what their needs are — if it’s rent, utilities, food and clothing, or wherever we might be able to help.”

Through donations, grants and partnerships with other organizations, the Society maintains various funds, which allow conferences to cater to the needs of those who approach them, often after learning about the Society through word of mouth or other organizations, such as Catholic Charities.

Although the biggest need Loftis sees is rent, the Society has several programs, including Fresh Start Loan, which helps individuals get out of the pay day loan system and improve their credit scores.

The Society also partners with arc Thrift Stores, which sells the Society gift cards at half price, and they in turn offer them to individuals in need.

For volunteer George Maes, serving the community in this way has been a pleasure.

“Meeting and helping those in need has truly been a blessing in my life,” he said. “It truly has changed my life. It has made me understand what it is to be humble and appreciate what God has given me, not to mention what it has done for my spiritual life.”

Maes has been with the Queen of Peace conference since 2006 as a volunteer and served for three years as president of the conference.

“Being a Vincentian, meeting people face-to-face [and] listening to their hardships in life most definitely allows you to see Christ in your neighbor who is in need,” he said.

During his time with the Society, Maes has seen everything “from a quiet thank you to tears and everything in between” from those he’s served. “No matter the type of response, they are all very appreciative and thankful for the help that was given to them.”

Loftis hopes the organization can continue having a profound impact on the Colorado community in years to come.

“Maybe instead of 20,000 people, next year we can help 40,000 people,” he said.

“As I look at our numbers last year for the housing fund, the money that I reimbursed our conferences with — the over $100,000 — allowed us to assist over 800 adults and over 600 children to avoid homelessness.

“That’s the type of thing we’re able to do with the funds that we receive.”

Highlights of services offered by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2018
  • 2,647 home visits conducted, helping 6,029 individuals
  • 2,676 individuals provided with food
  • 613 other in-kind services delivered totaling $14,728
  • 5,648 other visits made, assisting 11,580 individuals
  • 797 visits made to 2,478 individuals in eldercare facilities
  • 59,398 miles driven to assist those in need
  • 12 individuals aided with dental, legal or medical assistance
  • 20,091 people were helped
  • 41,771 hours of volunteer service were completed
  • 6 new conferences were established

For more information, contact Steve Loftis at svdpden@outlook.com or visit the website at svdpden.org.

To mail a donation, send to:

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Denver Metro Council

558 Castle Pines Pkwy Unit B-4 #107

Castle Pines, CO 80108