John Oliver’s alternative to payday loans? Literally anything else

Here are some shocking statistics for you–1 in 20 Americans has used a payday loan service and there are more payday loan stores in America than either McDonald’s or Starbucks.

I didn’t know that. In fact, I’ve been privileged enough to go a decent chunk of my life without being entirely clear on what a payday loan even is. If you’re not clear yourself, it’s basically legalized loan sharking, often targeted to the elderly and members of the military.

People need money for an emergency, and apply for a loan from one of these stores, which they are supposed to pay back on their next payday. With interest. A lot of it. Then they have to take out another payday loan in order to make ends meet for the next two weeks, and the cycle continues, and the people take on more and more debt just trying to keep up.

It’s horrifying, and it’s just another one of the insidious ways we keep the cycle of poverty going in this country. The people in debt to these companies are not just living paycheck to paycheck–they are essentially going from less of their paycheck to even less of their paycheck.

Last night, John Oliver addressed this often ignored issue on his show, “Last Week Tonight,” critiqued the way these businesses are regulated, and–with the help of Sarah Silverman–implored people to do literally anything else other than get a payday loan. Given that, eventually, they will end up in more debt than they would be if they hadn’t taken out that loan and will have to find other means of paying it off, he suggests that they go and do all those things before heading off to the cash store.

As easy as it is to go, “Well, anyone who thinks they can get money for nothing and their checks for free deserves what they get!”–we have to remember that people in desperate situations do desperate things, and that taking advantage of people’s desperate situations is a shitty thing to do. Some of these payday loan places end up charging people 1900% interest. And it’s completely legal.

It would not be legal, by the way, if it were the mob doing it. Then, it would be loansharking, and they would go to jail. While these companies will not break your kneecaps should you not pay them back, they can certainly cripple you in other ways.

It’s clear that we can’t count on the federal or state governments to regulate this industry, so hopefully getting the word out on how predatory it is will prevent some people from ending up in an endless cycle of debt.