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Title loan offices, military strike deal

Without an interest limit agreement, Navy officials in Escambia County decide not to do business with companies.

Unable to persuade the Florida Legislature to reduce interest rates on car title loans, military officials have reached an agreement with companies in Escambia County to stop doing business with Navy personnel or their spouses.

The agreement includes all 23 title loan offices in Escambia, where the Navy has three bases: Pensacola Naval Air Station, Corry Station Naval Technical Training Center and Saufley Field.

Reagan Reeves, general manager for Ace Title Loans' three Pensacola offices, said Tuesday that fewer than 3 percent of customers in the area are military. He said the lenders do not mind losing that business if it will get the Navy to stop seeking interest rate limits.

"It's not fair to those who use our service if the military continues to do things to try to eliminate the business," Reeves said. "If they don't want their employees to use us, then we will voluntarily not lend to military personnel."

The agreement also pleased Escambia County Commissioner Mike Bass, who had tried unsuccessfully to persuade his colleagues to pass an interest limit after the Legislature earlier refused to take action.

"It satisfies one of the many concerns I have," Bass said.

Existing law allows title loan companies to charge up to 22 percent a month, which amounts to 264 percent a year. Navy officials contend the rate is excessive and takes advantage of financially strapped sailors, who can lose their cars if they fail to keep up payments.

Capt. Randy Bahr, commander of the naval air station, outlined the agreement in a letter Bass, who said he's not yet ready to give up his efforts to cut interest rates.

The agreement already has one apparent weakness. Reeves said lenders will be unable to do anything if sailors or military spouses lie on loan applications about where they are employed.