Payday loans are often used by people who are in a financial bind and looking for temporary relief until their next paycheck, like many government workers who were furloughed due to the government shutdown this week. In most instances, this option is exercised if no other immediate resources, such as credit cards or funds from a savings account, are available.
The exponential growth of payday lending over the past few decades can be traced back to federal financial deregulation in the 1970s and 1980s. The very reason Trump installed Mulvaney…is because he is a de-regulator…. At the very least, this latest move is yet another wink and nod to financial predators that it’s open season on poor people, working families, and communities of color.
On the critic side right now are the Center for Responsible Lending, who advocates a 36 percent cap on payday lending, which we know puts the industry out of business. The CFPB’s proposed policy is to require payday lenders to collect more information at the point of contact and that’s one of the expenses that if avoided allows payday lenders to actually be profitable, deliver the product. Now that’s, that’s not the only plank in the CFPB’s platform. They advocate limiting rollovers and cooling-off periods and the research does point out that in states where rollovers are limited, payday lenders have gotten around them by paying the loan off by refinancing. Just starting a separate loan with a separate loan number, evading the regulation. Of course that’s a regulation that was poorly written, if the payday lenders can evade it that easily.
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RONALD MANN: I have a general idea that people that are really tight for money know a lot more where their next dollar is coming from and going than the people that are not particularly tight for money. So, I generally think that the kinds of people that borrow from payday lenders have a much better idea of how their finances are going to go for the next two or three months because it’s really a crucial item for them that they worry about every day. So that’s what I set out to test.
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The Twisted economics of payday lending can’t be separated from its predatory nature. The industry has always insisted that its products are intended only for short-term emergency use and that it doesn’t encourage repeat borrowing—the debt trap. “This is like the tobacco industry saying that smoking doesn’t cause cancer,” says Sheila Bair, the former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Study after study has found that repeat borrowing accounts for a large share of the industry’s revenues. Flannery and Samolyk found that “high per-customer loan volume” helps payday lenders cover their overhead and offset defaults. At a financial-services event in 2007, Daniel Feehan, then the CEO of the payday lender Cash America, said, according to multiple reports (here and here), “The theory in the business is you’ve got to get that customer in, work to turn him into a repetitive customer, long-term customer, because that’s really where the profitability is.”
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Payday loans charge borrowers high levels of interest. These loans may be considered predatory loans as they have a reputation for extremely high interest and hidden provisions that charge borrowers added fees.
Whatever you want to call it — wage deflation, structural unemployment, the absence of good-paying jobs — isn’t that a much bigger problem? And, if so, what’s to be done about that? Next time on Freakonomics Radio, we will continue this conversation by looking at one strange, controversial proposal for making sure that everyone’s got enough money to get by.
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MANN: If your prior is that none of the people using this product would do it if they actually understood what was going on — well, that just doesn’t seem to be right because the data at least suggests that most people do have a fairly good understanding of what’s going to happen to them.
That makes plenty of sense in theory. Payday lending in its most unfettered form seems to be ideal for neither consumers nor lenders. As Luigi Zingales, a professor at the University of Chicago, told a group of finance professionals in a speech last year, “The efficient outcome cannot be achieved without mandatory regulation.” One controversy is whether the bureau, in its zeal to protect consumers, is going too far. Under the plan it is now considering, lenders would have to make sure that borrowers can repay their loans and cover other living expenses without extensive defaults or reborrowing. These actions would indeed seem to curtail the possibility of people falling into debt traps with payday lenders. But the industry argues that the rules would put it out of business. And while a self-serving howl of pain is precisely what you’d expect from any industry under government fire, this appears, based on the business model, to be true—not only would the regulations eliminate the very loans from which the industry makes its money, but they would also introduce significant new underwriting expenses on every loan.
Later on, the payday lenders gave Mann the data that showed how long it actually took those exact customers to pay off their loans. About 60 percent of them paid off the loan within 14 days of the date they’d predicted.
DIANE STANDAERT: From the data that we’ve seen, payday loans disproportionately are concentrated in African-American and Latino communities, and that African-American and Latino borrowers are disproportionately represented among the borrowing population.
While the Trump rollback of the rule is an obvious direct attack on the regulation, it is predictable. Mulvaney—who received over $62,000 in political contributions from the payday-lending industry in past positions and whose appointment faces an ongoing legal challenge in court by his Obama-selected predecessor—raked in thousands in contributions just around the same time he issued a letter of protest to the Obama administration in 2016, warning that curbing payday lenders would unfairly limit “access to credit” for poor borrowers. He also opposed legislation to protect households at military bases from predatory lenders.
Many countries offer basic banking services through their postal systems. The United States Post Office Department offered such as service in the past. Called the United States Postal Savings System it was discontinued in 1967. In January 2014 the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service issued a white paper suggesting that the USPS could offer banking services, to include small dollar loans for under 30% APR. Support and criticism quickly followed; opponents of postal banking argued that as payday lenders would be forced out of business due to competition, the plan is nothing more than a scheme to support postal employees.
Check ‘n Go (“we,” “our,” or “us”) provides deferred deposit transactions. Deferred deposit transactions are subject to a finance charge based on the amount you borrow, the “amount financed.” The larger your amount financed is, the larger the finance charge will be. We offer deferred deposit transactions in $5 amount-financed increments ranging from $50 to $255. The amount you owe equals the sum of the amount financed and the finance charge. For example, if you obtain a $255 deferred deposit transaction, then the finance charge is $45 and the amount you owe would be $300 (i.e., $255 + $45).
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As you find when you dig into just about any modern economic scenario, most people have at least one horse in every race, which makes it hard to separate advocacy and reality. So let’s go where Freakonomics Radio often goes when we want to find someone who does not have a horse in the race: to academia. Let’s ask some academic researchers if the payday-loan industry is really as nasty as it seems.
Perhaps a solution of sorts—something that is better, but not perfect—could come from more-modest reforms to the payday-lending industry, rather than attempts to transform it. There is some evidence that smart regulation can improve the business for both lenders and consumers. In 2010, Colorado reformed its payday-lending industry by reducing the permissible fees, extending the minimum term of a loan to six months, and requiring that a loan be repayable over time, instead of coming due all at once. Pew reports that half of the payday stores in Colorado closed, but each remaining store almost doubled its customer volume, and now payday borrowers are paying 42 percent less in fees and defaulting less frequently, with no reduction in access to credit. “There’s been a debate for 20 years about whether to allow payday lending or not,” says Pew’s Alex Horowitz. “Colorado demonstrates it can be much, much better.”
So far, Facebook is standing by its VP, who said this about his intentions on Twitter: “I don’t agree with the post today and I didn’t agree with it even when I wrote it. The purpose of this post, like many others I have written internally, was to bring to the surface issues I felt deserved more discussion with the broader company.”
ZINMAN: And so we have a setup for a nice natural experiment there. You have two neighboring states, similar in a lot of ways. One passed a law, another considered passing a law, but didn’t quite pass it.
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DUBNER: Now, Bob, the blog post is sort of a pop version of a meta-study, which rolls up other research on different pieces of the issue. Persuade me that the studies that you cite in the post aren’t merely the biased rantings of some ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-costs lunatics. And I realize that at least one of the primary studies was authored by yourself, so I guess I’m asking you to prove that you are not an ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-costs lunatic.
A staff report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that payday loans should not be categorized as “predatory” since they may improve household welfare. “Defining and Detecting Predatory Lending” reports “if payday lenders raise household welfare by relaxing credit constraints, anti-predatory legislation may lower it.” The author of the report, Donald P. Morgan, defined predatory lending as “a welfare reducing provision of credit.” However, he also noted that the loans are very expensive, and that they are likely to be made to under-educated households or households of uncertain income.
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There’s no single reason payday lending in its more mainstream, visible form took off in the 1990s, but an essential enabler was deregulation. States began to roll back usury caps, and changes in federal laws helped lenders structure their loans so as to avoid the caps. By 2008, writes Jonathan Zinman, an economist at Dartmouth, payday-loan stores nationwide outnumbered McDonald’s restaurants and Starbucks coffee shops combined.
Customer Notice: Payday Loans are typically for two-to four-week terms (up to six months in IL). Some borrowers, however, use Payday Loans for several months, which can be expensive. Payday Loans (also referred to as Payday Advances, Cash Advances, Deferred Deposit Transactions/Loans) and high-interest loans should be used for short-term financial needs only and not as a long-term financial solution. Customers with credit difficulties should seek credit counseling before entering into any loan transaction. See State Center for specific information and requirements.
Except to the extent the federal Truth-In-Lending Act considers your written ACH authorization “security” for the deferred deposit transaction, we take no collateral to secure the transaction. For example, we do not take a security interest in any real estate or personal property item.
Some other academic research we’ve mentioned today does acknowledge the role of CCRF in providing industry data — like Jonathan Zinman’s paper which showed that people suffered from the disappearance of payday-loan shops in Oregon. Here’s what Zinman writes in an author’s note: “Thanks to Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF) for providing household survey data. CCRF is a non-profit organization, funded by payday lenders, with the mission of funding objective research. CCRF did not exercise any editorial control over this paper.”
Contact your state’s regulator or attorney general office for more information. You may also contact a legal aid attorney or private attorney for assistance. You can submit a complaint about payday loans with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-2372.
DEYOUNG: This is why price caps are a bad idea. Because if the solution was implemented as I suggest and, in fact, payday lenders lost some of their most profitable customers — because now we’re not getting that fee the 6th and 7th time from them — then the price would have to go up. And we’d let the market determine whether or not at that high price we still have folks wanting to use the product.
Bob DeYoung makes one particularly counterintuitive argument about the use of payday loans. Rather than “trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt,” as President Obama and other critics put it, DeYoung argues that payday loans may help people avoid a cycle of debt — like the late fees your phone company charges for an unpaid bill; like the overdraft fees or bounced-check fees your bank might charge you.
To prevent usury (unreasonable and excessive rates of interest), some jurisdictions limit the annual percentage rate (APR) that any lender, including payday lenders, can charge. Some jurisdictions outlaw payday lending entirely, and some have very few restrictions on payday lenders. In the United States, the rates of these loans used to be restricted in most states by the Uniform Small Loan Laws (USLL), with 36–40% APR generally the norm.
Race Matters: The Concentration of Payday Lenders in African-American Neighborhoods in North Carolina, by Uriah King, Wei Li, Delvin Davis and Keith Ernst, The Center for Responsible Lending (March, 2005).
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DEYOUNG: Oh, I do think that our history of usury laws is a direct result of our Judeo-Christian background. And even Islamic banking, which follows in the same tradition. But clearly interest on money lent or borrowed has a, has been looked at non-objectively, let’s put it that way. So the shocking APR numbers if we apply them to renting a hotel room or renting an automobile or lending your father’s gold watch or your mother’s silverware to the pawnbroker for a month, the APRs come out similar. So the shock from these numbers is, we recognize the shock here because we are used to calculating interest rates on loans but not interest rates on anything else. And it’s human nature to want to hear bad news and it’s, you know, the media understands this and so they report bad news more often than good news. We don’t hear this. It’s like the houses that don’t burn down and the stores that don’t get robbed.
The propensity for very low default rates seems to be an incentive for investors interested in payday lenders. In the Advance America 10-k SEC filing from December 2011 they note that their agreement with investors, “limits the average of actual charge-offs incurred during each fiscal month to a maximum of 4.50% of the average amount of adjusted transaction receivables outstanding at the end of each fiscal month during the prior twelve consecutive months”. They go on to note that for 2011 their average monthly receivables were $287.1 million and their average charge-off was $9.3 million, or 3.2%. In comparison with traditional lenders, payday firms also save on costs by not engaging in traditional forms of underwriting, relying on their easy rollover terms and the small size of each individual loan as method of diversification eliminating the need for verifying each borrowers ability to repay. It is perhaps due to this that payday lenders rarely exhibit any real effort to verify that the borrower will be able to pay the principal on their payday in addition to their other debt obligations.
You know the drill by now: A runaway trolley is careening down a track. There are five workers ahead, sure to be killed if the trolley reaches them. You can throw a lever to switch the trolley to a neighboring track, but there’s a worker on that one as well who would likewise be doomed. Do you hit the switch and kill one person, or do nothing and kill five?
In US law, a payday lender can use only the same industry standard collection practices used to collect other debts, specifically standards listed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, and deceptive practices to collect from debtors. Such practices include calling before 8 o’clock in the morning or after 9 o’clock at night, or calling debtors at work.
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DeYOUNG: We need to do more research and try to figure out the best ways to regulate rather than regulations that are being pursued now that would eventually shut down the industry. I don’t want to come off as being an advocate of payday lenders. That’s not my position. My position is I want to make sure the users of payday loans who are using them responsibly and for who are made better off by them don’t lose access to this product.
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