State prosecutors have been battling to keep online lenders from illegally making loans to residents where the loans are restricted. In December, Lori Swanson, Minnesota’s attorney general, settled with Sure Advance L.L.C. over claims that the online lender was operating without a license to make loans with interest rates of up to 1,564 percent. In Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is investigating a number of online lenders.
A study by the FDIC Center for Financial Research found that “operating costs are not that out of line with the size of advance fees” collected and that, after subtracting fixed operating costs and “unusually high rate of default losses,” payday loans “may not necessarily yield extraordinary profits.”
As for credit unions, although a few have had success offering small, short-term loans, many struggle with regulators, with reputational risk, and with the cost of making such loans. “We are all cognizant that we should do it, but it is very challenging to figure out a business model that works,” says Tom Kane, the president of the Illinois Credit Union League. In any event, the credit-union industry is small—smaller altogether, Kane points out, than JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, or Wells Fargo alone. “The scale isn’t there,” he says.
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Arkansas’s attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, has been targeting lenders illegally making loans in his state, and says the Internet firms are tough to fight. “The Internet knows no borders,” he said. “There are layer upon layer of cyber-entities and some are difficult to trace.”
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CFPB found that 80 percent of payday borrowers tracked over ten months rolled over or reborrowed loans within 30 days. Borrowers default on one in five payday loans. Online borrowers fare worse. CFPB found that more than half of all online payday instalment loan sequences default.
MARC FUSARO: The Consumer Credit Research Foundation and I had an interest in the paper being as clear as possible. And if someone, including Hilary Miller, would take a paragraph that I had written and re-write it in a way that made what I was trying to say more clear, I’m happy for that kind of advice. I have taken papers to the university writing center before and they’ve helped me make my writing more clear. And there’s nothing scandalous about that, at all. I mean the results of the paper have never been called into question. Nobody had suggested I changed any other results or anything like that based on any comments from anybody. Frankly, I think this is much ado about nothing.
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.
It may not even surprise you to learn that the Center for Responsible Lending — the non-profit that’s fighting predatory lending — that it was founded by a credit union, the Self-Help Credit Union, which would likely stand to benefit from the elimination of payday loans. And that among the Center’s many funders are banks and other mainstream financial institutions.
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.
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.
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”.
Petru Stelian Stoianovici, a researcher from Charles River Associates, and Michael T. Maloney, an economics professor from Clemson University, found “no empirical evidence that payday lending leads to more bankruptcy filings, which casts doubt on the debt trap argument against payday lending.”
A version of this article appears in print on February 24, 2013, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Major Banks Aid In Payday Loans Banned By States. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
First, Mann wanted to gauge borrowers’ expectations — how long they thought it would take them to pay back a payday loan. So he designed a survey that was given out to borrowers in a few dozen payday loan shops across five states.
The bigger problem for payday lenders is the overhead. Alex Horowitz, a research manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts, says that on average, two-thirds of the fees payday lenders collect are spent just keeping the lights on. The average storefront serves only 500 customers a year, and employee turnover is ridiculously high. For instance, QC Holdings, a publicly traded nationwide lender, reported that it had to replace approximately 65 percent of its branch-level employees in 2014. “The profits are not extraordinary,” Horowitz says. “What is extraordinary is the inefficiency.”
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.
A 2012 report produced by the Cato Institute found that the cost of the loans is overstated, and that payday lenders offer a product traditional lenders simply refuse to offer. However, the report is based on 40 survey responses collected at a payday storefront location. The report’s author, Victor Stango, was on the board of the Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF) until 2015, an organization funded by payday lenders, and received $18,000 in payments from CCRF in 2013.
A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that, “We … test whether payday lending fits our definition of predatory. We find that in states with higher payday loan limits, less educated households and households with uncertain income are less likely to be denied credit, but are not more likely to miss a debt payment. Absent higher delinquency, the extra credit from payday lenders does not fit our definition of predatory.” The caveat to this is that with a term of under 30 days there are no payments, and the lender is more than willing to roll the loan over at the end of the period upon payment of another fee. The report goes on to note that payday loans are extremely expensive, and borrowers who take a payday loan are at a disadvantage in comparison to the lender, a reversal of the normal consumer lending information asymmetry, where the lender must underwrite the loan to assess creditworthiness.
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DEYOUNG: If we take an objective look at the folks who use payday lending, what we find is that most users of the product are very satisfied with the product. Survey results show that almost 90 percent of users of the product say that they’re either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with the product afterwards.
Brian Melzer of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that payday loan users did suffer a reduction in their household financial situation, as the high costs of repeated rollover loans impacted their ability to pay recurring bills such as utilities and rent. This assumes a payday user will rollover their loan rather than repay it, which has been shown both by the FDIC and the Consumer Finance Protection bureau in large sample studies of payday consumers 
“… 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.”
Does a researcher who’s out to make a splash with some sexy finding necessarily operate with more bias than a researcher who’s operating out of pure intellectual curiosity? I don’t think that’s necessarily so. Like life itself, academic research is a case-by-case scenario.
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