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.
In another study, by Gregory Elliehausen, Division of Research of the Federal Reserve System and Financial Services Research Program at the George Washington University School of Business, 41% earn between $25,000 and $50,000, and 39% report incomes of $40,000 or more. 18% have an income below $25,000.
Jonathan Zinman is a professor of economics at Dartmouth College. Zinman says that a number of studies have tried to answer the benchmark question of whether payday lending is essentially a benefit to society. Some studies say yes …
DeYoung, along with three co-authors, recently published an article about payday loans on Liberty Street Economics. That’s a blog run by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Another co-author, Donald Morgan, is an assistant vice president at the New York Fed. The article is titled “Reframing the Debate About Payday Lending.”
This reinforces the findings of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) study from 2011 which found black and Hispanic families, recent immigrants, and single parents were more likely to use payday loans. In addition, their reasons for using these products were not as suggested by the payday industry for one time expenses, but to meet normal recurring obligations.
DUBNER: Well, here’s what seems to me, at least, the puzzle, which is that repeat rollovers — which represent a relatively small number of the borrowers and are a problem for those borrowers — but it sounds as though those repeat rollovers are the source of a lot of the lender’s profits. So, if you were to eliminate the biggest problem from the consumer’s side, wouldn’t that remove the profit motive from the lender’s side, maybe kill the industry?
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:
“Alongside our other new rules for payday firms – affordability tests and limits on rollovers and continuous payment authorities – the cap will help drive up standards in a sector that badly needs to improve how it treats its customers.”
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The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis tracks personal savings rates for American households. According to numbers dating back to the 1950s, personal savings rates reach an all-time high of approximately 17 percent. Today, that number hovers around 5 percent. It’s not that Americans today don’t want to save for a rainy day, but rather that for many individuals and families, the rainy days never seem to go away. Rising costs keep many people living check to check, which can make it difficult to deal with emergencies. While savings are great, where do you turn if you need a quick financial boost and don’t have any cash stowed away? The answer could be an online cash advance loan.
Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. Today’s episode was produced by Christopher Werth. The rest of our staff includes Arwa Gunja, Jay Cowit, Merritt Jacob, Greg Rosalsky, Kasia Mychajlowycz, Alison Hockenberry and Caroline English. Thanks also to Bill Healy for his help with this episode from Chicago. If you want more Freakonomics Radio, you can also find us on Twitter and Facebook and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or wherever else you get your free, weekly podcasts.
DEYOUNG: That’s a very standard disclaimer. The Federal Reserve System is rather unique among regulators across the world. They see the value in having their researchers exercise scientific and academic freedom because they know that inquiry is a good thing.
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.
DeYOUNG: The payday lender doesn’t collect any other information. The payday borrower then writes a check — and this is the key part of the technology — the payday borrower then writes a check for the amount of the loan and postdates it by two weeks. And this becomes the collateral for the loan. So should the payday borrower not pay the loan off in two weeks, the payday lender then deposits the check.
In a profitability analysis by Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law, it was determined that the average profit margin from seven publicly traded payday lending companies (including pawn shops) in the U.S. was 7.63%, and for pure payday lenders it was 3.57%. These averages are less than those of other traditional lending institutions such as credit unions and banks.
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Online cash advance loans are slightly different from their traditional brethren, though. Online loans are handled via internet applications and approvals, which often means you know if you are approved right away and you can receive your funds quickly via a bank transfer.
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?”
Tags: Alison Hockenberry, Arwa Gunja, Barack Obama, Bill Healy, Bob DeYoung, Caroline English, Christopher Werth, Diane Standaert, Donald Morgan, Elizabeth Dole, Greg Rosalsky, Hilary Miller, Jamie Fulmer, Jay Cowit, Jonathan Zinman, Kasia Mychajlowycz, Marc Fusaro, Merritt Jacob, Patricia Cirillo, Pew Charitable Trusts, President Obama, Ronald Mann, Scott Carrell, Sebastian McKamey
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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.
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?
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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”.
Begin with last October’s oral argument in Gill v. Whitford, the political-gerrymandering case many observers expected to be the court’s major statement on the issue. The challengers to Wisconsin’s Republican-leaning system of legislative districts claimed that it violated both the First Amendment (by “penalizing … voters because of their political beliefs”) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (by “diluting the political influence of a targeted group of voters”). They asked the court to ratify the lower court’s three-part test. Under that test, a legislative map is invalid if it (1) is intended to discriminate among voters based on partisan identity; (2) causes a “large and durable” political swing in representation from one party to another; and (3) lacks any other reason or justification except political advantage.
ZINMAN: And in that study, in that data, I find evidence that payday borrowers in Oregon actually seemed to be harmed. They seemed to be worse off by having that access to payday loans taken away. And so that’s a study that supports the pro-payday loan camp.
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.
“Payday lending brings up this meta issue,” says Prentiss Cox, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s law school and a member of the consumer advisory board at the bureau: “What should consumer protection be?” If most payday-lending customers ultimately need to fall back on financial support from family members, or on bankruptcy, then perhaps the industry should be eliminated, because it merely makes the inevitable more painful. Yet some consumers do use payday loans just as the industry markets them—as a short-term emergency source of cash, one that won’t be there if the payday-lending industry goes away. The argument that payday lending shouldn’t exist would be easy if there were widespread, affordable sources of small-dollar loans. But thus far, there are not.
The problem we’ve been looking at today is pretty straightforward: there are a lot of low-income people in the U.S. who’ve come to rely on a financial instrument, the payday loan, that is, according to its detractors, exploitative, and according to its supporters, useful. President Obama is pushing for regulatory reform; payday advocates say the reform may kill off the industry, leaving borrowers in the lurch.
*Calculation: (lender fee / loan amount) x (amount of days in a year / duration of the loan) x 100 Low End Calculation: ($40 / $500) * (365 days / 14 days) x 100 = 208.57 percent High End Calculation: ($80 / $500) * (365 days / 14 days) x 100 = 417.14 percent
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB — the federal agency that President Obama wants to tighten payday-loan rules — 75 percent of the industry’s fees come from borrowers who take out more than ten loans a year.
With 15 states banning payday loans, a growing number of the lenders have set up online operations in more hospitable states or far-flung locales like Belize, Malta and the West Indies to more easily evade statewide caps on interest rates.
At the time, McKamey was making $8.45 an hour, working at a supermarket. A $150 ticket was a big problem. He also had an outstanding $45 phone bill. So he ignored the smoking ticket, hoping it’d go away. That didn’t work out so well. He got some letters from the city, demanding he pay the fine. So he went to a payday-loan store and borrowed some money.
It may seem inconceivable that a company couldn’t make money collecting interest at a 36 percent annual clip. One reason it’s true is that default rates are high. A study in 2007 by two economists, Mark Flannery and Katherine Samolyk, found that defaults account for more than 20 percent of operating expenses at payday-loan stores. By comparison, loan losses in 2007 at small U.S. commercial banks accounted for only 3 percent of expenses, according to the Kansas City Fed. This isn’t surprising, given that payday lenders don’t look carefully at a borrower’s income, expenses, or credit history to ensure that she can repay the loan: That underwriting process, the bedrock of conventional lending, would be ruinously expensive when applied to a $300, two-week loan. Instead, lenders count on access to the borrower’s checking account—but if that’s empty due to other withdrawals or overdrafts, it’s empty.
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Critics — including President Obama — say short-term, high-interest loans are predatory, trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt. But some economists see them as a useful financial instrument for people who need them. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau promotes new regulation, we ask: who’s right?
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.
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