DeYOUNG: Borrowing money is like renting money. You get to use it two weeks and then you pay it back. You could rent a car for two weeks, right? You get to use that car. Well, if you calculate the annual percentage rate on that car rental — meaning that if you divide the amount you pay on that car by the value of that automobile — you get similarly high rates. So this isn’t about interest. This is about short-term use of a product that’s been lent to you. This is just arithmetic.
We’ve been asking a pretty simple question today: are payday loans as evil as their critics say or overall, are they pretty useful? But even such a simple question can be hard to answer, especially when so many of the parties involved have incentive to twist the argument, and even the data, in their favor. At least the academic research we’ve been hearing about is totally unbiased, right?
The payday lending industry argues that conventional interest rates for lower dollar amounts and shorter terms would not be profitable. For example, a $100 one-week loan, at a 20% APR (compounded weekly) would generate only 38 cents of interest, which would fail to match loan processing costs. Research shows that on average, payday loan prices moved upward, and that such moves were “consistent with implicit collusion facilitated by price focal points”.
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If the consumer owns their own vehicle, an auto title loan would be an alternative for a payday loan, as auto title loans use the equity of the vehicle as the credit instead of payment history and employment history.
It begins like this: “Except for the ten to twelve million people who use them every year, just about everybody hates payday loans. Their detractors include many law professors, consumer advocates, members of the clergy, journalists, policymakers, and even the President! But is all the enmity justified?”
Some payday loan companies gather your personal information and then shop around for a lender. That means your information could go out to third parties as part of the lending process. Other companies will even sell contact information, leaving you dealing with sales calls and spam emails. LendUp protects customer information and will never sell it.
Facing increasingly inhospitable states, the lenders have also set up shop offshore. A former used-car dealership owner, who runs a series of online lenders through a shell corporation in Grenada, outlined the benefits of operating remotely in a 2005 deposition. Put simply, it was “lawsuit protection and tax reduction,” he said. Other lenders are based in Belize, Malta, the Isle of Man and the West Indies, according to federal court records.
“… payday lending services extend small amounts of uncollateralized credit to high-risk borrowers, and provide loans to poor households when other financial institutions will not. Throughout the past decade, this “democratization of credit” has made small loans available to mass sectors of the population, and particularly the poor, that would not have had access to credit of any kind in the past.”
DUBNER: Hey Christopher. So, as I understand it, much of what you’ve learned about CCRF’s involvement in the payday research comes from a watchdog group called the Campaign for Accountability, or CFA? So, first off, tell us a little bit more about them, and what their incentives might be.
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Online Loans: AlliedCash.com is not a direct online lender and does not provide online lending services directly to consumers. Instead, the information you submitted will be sent to Check `n Go. Our website does not act as a correspondent, agent, or representative for Check `n Go. All financial and employment data is immediately removed from our AlliedCash.com system and submitted to Check `n Go. We do not make credit decisions or recommend or endorse any specific loan product. You will be contacted by Check `n Go if additional information is required to process your application. If your application is approved, the money/fund disbursement will be from Check `n Go. Typically, loan proceeds are deposited into a customer’s bank account within one business day.
OBAMA: You take out a $500 loan at the rates that they’re charging at these payday loans — some cases 450 percent interest — you wind up paying more than $1,000 in interest and fees on the $500 that you borrowed … You don’t need to be a math genius to know that it’s a pretty bad deal if you’re borrowing $500 and you have to pay back $1,000 in interest.
Financial Implications – The cost associated with short term loans of up to $500 can range from 15% to 40%, and these costs may climb even higher for loans that are greater than $500 in value. Before you sign your agreement, you should check these fees carefully. Similarly, there may also be charges applied for nonsufficient funds. As an example, if your $100 loan is 15 days past due, you may be assessed a charge that is equal to 10% of the principle balance as well as a $25 nonsufficient funds fee.
The payday industry, and some political allies, argue the CFPB is trying to deny credit to people who really need it. Now, it probably does not surprise you that the payday industry doesn’t want this kind of government regulation. Nor should it surprise you that a government agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is trying to regulate an industry like the payday industry.
In Store Loans: Approval depends on meeting legal, regulatory and underwriting requirements. Cash advances are typically for two-to-four week terms. Some borrowers, however, use cash advances for several months. Cash advances should not be used as a long-term financial solution, and extended use may be expensive. Borrowers with credit difficulties should seek credit counseling. All product and service options subject to change without notice. Cash advances subject to applicable lender’s terms and conditions. Licensed by the California Department of Business Oversight pursuant to the California Deferred Deposit Transaction Law. California loans other than deferred deposit loans are issued pursuant to the California Finance Lenders Law. Principal address 7755 Montgomery Road, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45236.
DUBNER: Obviously the history of lending is long and usually, at least in my reading, tied to religion. There’s prohibition against it in Deuteronomy and elsewhere in the Old Testament. It’s in the New Testament. In Shakespeare, the Merchant of Venice was not the hero. So, do you think that the general view of this kind of lending is colored by an emotional or moral argument too much at the expense of an economic and practical argument?
DUBNER:OK, so this is interesting that a watchdog group that will not reveal its funding is going after an industry for trying to influence academics that it’s funding. So should we assume that CFA, the watchdog, has some kind of horse in the payday race? Or do we just not know?
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.
DEYOUNG: Yes, I like to think of myself as an objective observer of social activity, as an economist. But there’s one section of the blog where we highlight mixed evidence. That in some cases having access to payday loans looks like on balance, it helps reduce financial distress at the household level. And we also point to, I believe, an equal number of studies in that section that find the exact opposite. And then of course there’s another section in the blog where we point directly to rollovers and rollovers is where the rubber hits the road on this. If we can somehow predict which folks will not be able to handle this product and would roll it over incessantly, then we could impress upon payday lenders not to make the loans to those people. This product, in fact, is particularly badly suited to predict this because the payday lender only gets a small number of pieces of information when she makes the loan, as opposed to the information that a regulated financial institution would collect. The expense of collecting that information, of underwriting the loan in the traditional way that a bank would, would be too high for the payday lender to offer the product. If we load up additional costs on the production function of these loans, the loans won’t be profitable any longer.
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.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doesn’t have the power to ban payday lending outright, or to set a nationwide interest-rate cap, but it can act to prevent practices deemed “unfair, abusive, or deceptive.” In March 2015, it announced that it was considering a set of rules for most small-dollar loans (up to $500) that consumers are required to repay within 45 days. The goal is to put an end to payday-lending debt traps.
A 2009 study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Adair Morse found that in natural disaster areas where payday loans were readily available consumers fared better than those in disaster zones where payday lending was not present. Not only were fewer foreclosures recorded, but such categories as birth rate were not affected adversely by comparison. Moreover, Morse’s study found that fewer people in areas served by payday lenders were treated for drug and alcohol addiction.
Cash loans vary from lender to lender. So which one is best for you? Start by comparing interest rates, terms and fees between the loan options. Some things to look out for are prepayment penalties and automatic rollovers.
But as we kept researching this episode, our producer Christopher Werth learned something interesting about one study cited in that blog post — the study by Columbia law professor Ronald Mann, another co-author on the post, the study where a survey of payday borrowers found that most of them were pretty good at predicting how long it would take to pay off the loan. Here’s Ronald Mann again:
Payday lenders will attempt to collect on the consumer’s obligation first by simply requesting payment. If internal collection fails, some payday lenders may outsource the debt collection, or sell the debt to a third party.
Lawmakers, led by Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, introduced a bill in July aimed at reining in the lenders, in part, by forcing them to abide by the laws of the state where the borrower lives, rather than where the lender is. The legislation, pending in Congress, would also allow borrowers to cancel automatic withdrawals more easily. “Technology has taken a lot of these scams online, and it’s time to crack down,” Mr. Merkley said in a statement when the bill was introduced.
Consumer Notice: Personal loans are intended for short-term financial relief and do not constitute long-term financial solutions. Consumers facing debt and credit difficulties should seek out debt and credit advisory help. You will not be charged any fees to use CashNow.com’s services.
It is simple! You can apply for a cheap payday loan online in comfort of your home and get money the as soon as tomorrow or next business day. Why online? Because it is easy and takes only few minutes to get you the cheapest payday loans. First of all you don’t need to leave your house and you can still get your instant payday loan. Secondly when applying for a payday loan online, you don’t need to provide any documents.
FULMER: It would take the $15 and it would make that fee $1.38 per $100 borrowed. That’s less than 7.5 cents per day. The New York Times can’t sell a newspaper for 7.5 cents a day. And somehow we’re expected to be offering unsecured, relatively, $100 loans for a two-week period for 7.5 cents a day. It just doesn’t make economical sense.
NOTICE: This disclosure is being provided to you pursuant to our terms of service with Google®, Inc. It is not required by any federal, state or local law. Our lenders may offer you a loan with an APR between 20% and 300%. The APR on a small dollar, short term loan represents the amount of your loan, cost of the loan, term of the loan and repayment amounts and timing. Loans on the lower end of the APR range may be for a larger loan amount and for a longer term. Loans on the higher end of the APR range may be for a smaller loan amount and for a shorter term. Depending on your credit needs and desire to pay your loan off quickly, your lender may only offer you loans with an APR near the high end of the range noted above.
ZINMAN: The Pentagon in recent years has made it a big policy issue. They have posited that having very ready access to payday loans outside of bases has caused financial distress and distractions that have contributed to declines in military readiness and job performance.
The report was reinforced by a Federal Reserve Board (FRB) 2014 study which found that while bankruptcies did double among users of payday loans, the increase was too small to be considered significant. The same FRB researchers found that payday usage had no positive or negative impact on household welfare as measured by credit score changes over time.
As for federal regulation, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act gave the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) specific authority to regulate all payday lenders, regardless of size. Also, the Military Lending Act imposes a 36% rate cap on tax refund loans and certain payday and auto title loans made to active duty armed forces members and their covered dependents, and prohibits certain terms in such loans.
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.”
“Say, don’t you know this business is a blessing to the poor?” So said Frank Jay Mackey, who was known as the king of the loan sharks in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, according to Quick Cash, a book about the industry by Robert Mayer, a political-science professor at Loyola University Chicago. There are many parallels between the early-20th-century loan sharks and today’s payday lenders, including the fact that both sprang up at times when the income divide was growing. Back then the loans were illegal, because states had usury caps that prevented lending at rates much higher than single digits. Still, those illegal loans were far cheaper than today’s legal ones. “At the turn of the twentieth century, 20% a month was a scandal,” Mayer writes. “Today, the average payday loan is twice as expensive as that.”
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ERVIN BANKS: I don’t see nothing wrong with them. I had some back bills I had to pay off. So it didn’t take me too long to pay it back — about three months, something like that. They’re beautiful people.