Special/Signature Issues » 2013 Top 40 Under 40

Dana Wiggins, 33

Director of Outreach and Financial Advocacy, Virginia Poverty Law Center

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BRIGET GANSKE

You’re in a tight financial spot. How much will it cost you to borrow $1,000 from a payday lender if you pay the loan off in the course of a year? Almost $2,500, once you add up the interest and fees, Dana Wiggins says.

It sounds crazy, she says, but “people in desperate situations don’t do math.”

Wiggins is a financial advocate at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. There, she’s been instrumental in pushing reforms through the General Assembly that aim to level the playing field for consumers who find themselves at the counter of the payday and car title loan outfits that dot the region.

She tells the story of a veteran who lived in an unheated trailer that lacked running water. “He went to every payday loan store in his town,” she says. “He ended up with 18, and that became his main job, keeping all the loans going and driving around from lender to lender.”

Wiggins says the state-level reforms have eased the burden on people like that veteran. She’s also worked with Chesterfield County to ban payday lenders from opening in residential neighborhoods.

“For me, the thing that keeps me going is, people make bad decisions, but if you can get to people and help them not make another bad decision, they can make so much out of that,” she says. “The lenders don’t always win — people wise up.”

In addition to her financial advocacy, the former Peace Corps volunteer has helped launch Richmond’s relationship with Mali, where she’s traveled to help establish a women’s health center. She also regularly lectures in the Richmond Public Schools to third-graders, whose curriculum covers that country.

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