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BOISE, Idaho -- The payday lending industry has its share of critics who claim the short-term, high-interest loans prey on vulnerable customers.

But defenders of the industry -- which extended more than $185 million in loans to Idahoans in 2010 -- say getting cash quickly is essential to those in a financial pinch.

Industry experts say Idaho is one of the least restrictive states in the nation. This year, the Idaho lawmakers killed a bill to cap interest rates at 36 percent.

The failure of that bill comes as many other states -- including Washington, Oregon and Montana -- have imposed consumer protections on the growing industry.

In Idaho, payday stores have grown from 165 in 2003 to 215 in 2010. Last year, nearly 500,000 loans were issued at an average of $371.

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