Some of Minnesota’s top religious leaders said Tuesday they are preparing to campaign for payday lending changes in the state.

Leaders with the Minnesota State Baptist Convention, meeting this week at an annual gathering, said they would advocate for congregants who are harmed by high-interest, short-term loans. They are partnering with ISAIAH, a religious coalition that represents more than 100 congregations around the state.

“The burden caused by payday loans is creating a crisis for children and families in our communities, hurting especially those who are most vulnerable,” the Rev. Billy Russell, president of the organization, said in a statement.

Russell said it’s an industry that creates “considerable profits for those who design these predatory products.”

State regulators and other reform advocates have tried unsuccessfully to rein in the payday lending industry in Minnesota. But they have signaled plans to try again during the 2016 legislative session.

In 2014, Minnesota payday lenders issued nearly 390,000 payday loans valued at more than $149 million, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The Commerce Department data showed that payday lenders charge triple-digit interest rates on the small-dollar loans, and the average payday loan customer has nearly 10 loans in a year.

Payday lenders have opposed previous regulatory efforts, including loan and interest-rate caps, arguing that such limitations will put them out of business, forcing their customers to seek loans through unregulated lenders or loan sharks.

Previous efforts were met with stiff resistance by payday lenders, including Payday America, the largest such lender, which spent more than $300,000 last year at the Capitol to kill a package of proposed changes.

Payday lending occurs in much of the country, although 15 states and the District of Columbia have effectively banned it outright. Minnesota is among 36 states that allow payday lending. Nine of those have set more stringent requirements, including lower limits on fees.

Advocates for changes are waiting for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue national regulations next year on payday lending.

Ricardo Lopez • 651-925-5044

Photo: A Payday America customer at St. Paul location recently to pay off a previous payday loan and ask for a new one during a recent visit. (Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune) 

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