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?
While the loans are simple to obtain — some online lenders promise approval in minutes with no credit check — they are tough to get rid of. Customers who want to repay their loan in full typically must contact the online lender at least three days before the next withdrawal. Otherwise, the lender automatically renews the loans at least monthly and withdraws only the interest owed. Under federal law, customers are allowed to stop authorized withdrawals from their account. Still, some borrowers say their banks do not heed requests to stop the loans.
There is a long and often twisted history of industries co-opting scientists and other academic researchers to produce findings that make their industries look safer or more reliable or otherwise better than they really are. Whenever we talk about academic research on this show — which is pretty much every week — we do try to show the provenance of that research and establish how legitimate it is. The best first step in figuring that out is to ask what kind of incentives are at play. But even that is only one step.
Payday lending works like this: In exchange for a small loan—the average amount borrowed is about $350—a customer agrees to pay a single flat fee, typically in the vicinity of $15 per $100 borrowed. For a two-week loan, that can equate to an annualized rate of almost 400 percent. The entire amount—the fee plus the sum that was borrowed—is generally due all at once, at the end of the term. (Borrowers give the lender access to their bank account when they take out the loan.) But because many borrowers can’t pay it all back at once, they roll the loan into a new one, and end up in what the industry’s many critics call a debt trap, with gargantuan fees piling up. As Mehrsa Baradaran, an associate professor at the University of Georgia’s law school, puts it in her new book, How the Other Half Banks, “One of the great ironies in modern America is that the less money you have, the more you pay to use it.”
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.
However, despite the tendency to characterize payday loan default rates as high, several researchers have noted that this is an artifact of the normal short term of the payday product, and that during the term of loans with longer periods there are frequently points where the borrower is in default and then becomes current again. Actual charge offs are no more frequent than with traditional forms of credit, as the majority of payday loans are rolled over into new loans repeatedly without any payment applied to the original principal.
With so many lenders online, it’s hard to determine which one offers a better kind of cash loan. Those seeking a cash loan should be aware of lenders advertising online loans for bad credit or loans with no credit check. These kinds of cash loans may have higher interest rates and unusual terms and penalties.
So, given this fact, how should one think about the industry? Is it treacherous enough that it should be eliminated? Or, is it a useful, if relatively expensive, financial product that the majority of customers benefit from?
A payday loan (also called a payday advance, salary loan, payroll loan, small dollar loan, short term, or cash advance loan) is a small, short-term unsecured loan, “regardless of whether repayment of loans is linked to a borrower’s payday.” The loans are also sometimes referred to as “cash advances,” though that term can also refer to cash provided against a prearranged line of credit such as a credit card. Payday advance loans rely on the consumer having previous payroll and employment records. Legislation regarding payday loans varies widely between different countries, and in federal systems, between different states or provinces.
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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.
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.”
What our producer learned was that while Ronald Mann did create the survey, it was actually administered by a survey firm. And that firm had been hired by the chairman of a group called the Consumer Credit Research Foundation, or CCRF, which is funded by payday lenders. Now, to be clear, Ronald Mann says that CCRF did not pay him to do the study, and did not attempt to influence his findings; but nor does his paper disclose that the data collection was handled by an industry-funded group. So we went back to Bob DeYoung and asked whether, maybe, it should have.
Although some have noted that these loans appear to carry substantial risk to the lender, it has been shown that these loans carry no more long term risk for the lender than other forms of credit. These studies seem to be confirmed by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission filings of at least one lender, who notes a charge-off rate of 3.2%.
Maybe that’s about as good as it gets on the fringe. Outrage is easy, and outrage is warranted—but maybe payday lenders shouldn’t be its main target. The problem isn’t just that people who desperately need a $350 loan can’t get it at an affordable rate, but that a growing number of people need that loan in the first place.
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Cash advances in Texas are made by Integrity Funding Texas Limited Partnership or NCP Finance Limited Partnership. Credit approval is subject to the applicable lender’s credit standards. Actual loan terms (including maximum advance amount) may vary by applicant. Additional fees may apply if not repaid as agreed. Each lender requires certain supporting documentation with each new application. Complete disclosures of APR, fees, and payment terms are provided with each advance and are available from the lenders. For cash advances in Texas, applicant must retain Check ‘n Go as a credit services organization.
The Military Lending Act Five Years Later: Impact on Servicemembers, the High-Cost Small Dollar Loan Market, and the Campaign against Predatory Lending, by Jean Ann Fox, Consumer Federation of America, (May, 2012).
Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to obtain an installment loan or a line of credit. Snappy Payday Loans specializes in arranging payday loans online. However we also understand your need for more flexible payment terms than a traditional online payday advance. That’s why we also arrange for installment loans and lines of credit with trusted lenders. You can borrow more and get more flexible payment terms too! See our cash advance page for more details!
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WINCY COLLINS: I advise everyone, “Do not even mess with those people. They are rip-offs.” I wouldn’t dare go back again. I don’t even like walking across the street past it. That’s just how pissed I was, and so hurt.
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