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Many students choose law school after getting their freshman math grades, and law school curricula make little attempt to build numeracy among these refugees. Because complex issues inevitably involve statistical information, that gap in legal education can cause mischief, especially when it affects judges.
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And yet the fringe has gotten awfully large. The typical payday-lending customer, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, is a white woman age 25 to 44. Payday lenders serve more than 19 million American households—nearly one in six—according to the Community Financial Services Association of America, the industry’s trade group. And even that’s only a fraction of those who could become customers any day now. The group’s CEO, Dennis Shaul, told Congress in February that as many as 76 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, without the resources to cover unexpected expenses. Or, as an online lender called Elevate Credit, which offers small loans that often have triple-digit annualized interest rates, put it in a recent financial filing, “Decades-long macroeconomic trends and the recent financial crisis have resulted in a growing ‘New Middle Class’ with little to no savings, urgent credit needs and limited options.”
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WERTH: So, what Fusaro did was he set up a randomized control trial where he gave one group of borrowers a traditional high-interest-rate payday loan and then he gave another group of borrowers no interest rate on their loans and then he compared the two and he found out that both groups were just as likely to roll over their loans again. And we should say, again, the research was funded by CCRF.
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Fulmer says that payday-loan interest rates aren’t nearly as predatory as they seem, for two reasons. First: when you hear “400 percent on an annualized basis,” you might think that people are borrowing the money for a year. But these loans are designed to be held for just a few weeks, unless, of course, they get rolled over a bunch of times. And, reason number two: because payday loans are so small — the average loan is about $375— the fees need to be relatively high to make it worthwhile for the lender. For every $100 borrowed, Fulmer says, the lender gets about $15 in fees. So, capping the rate at an annualized 36 percent just wouldn’t work.
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According to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Most payday loan borrowers [in the United States] are white, female, and are 25 to 44 years old. However, after controlling for other characteristics, there are five groups that have higher odds of having used a payday loan: those without a four-year college degree; home renters; African Americans; those earning below $40,000 annually; and those who are separated or divorced.” Most borrowers use payday loans to cover ordinary living expenses over the course of months, not unexpected emergencies over the course of weeks. The average borrower is indebted about five months of the year.
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The idea that interest rates should have limits goes back to the beginning of civilization. Even before money was invented, the early Babylonians set a ceiling on how much grain could be paid in interest, according to Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and a senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: They recognized the pernicious effects of trapping a family with debt that could not be paid back. In the United States, early, illegal payday-like loans trapped many borrowers, and harassment by lenders awoke the ire of progressives. States began to pass versions of the Uniform Small Loan Law, drafted in 1916 under the supervision of Arthur Ham, the first director of the Russell Sage Foundation’s Department of Remedial Loans. Ham recognized a key truth about small, short-term loans: They are expensive for lenders to make. His model law tried to encourage legal short-term lending by capping rates at a high enough level—states determined their own ceilings, typically ranging from 36 to 42 percent a year—to enable lenders to turn a profit. This was highly controversial, but many Americans still could not secure loans at that rate; their risk of default was deemed too great. Some of them eventually turned to the mob, which grew strong during Prohibition.
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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.
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Jump up ^ “Testimony of Dr. Kimberly R. Manturuk, Center for Community Capital, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Credit for Consumers, United States House of Representatives, Hearing on ‘An Examination of the Availability of Credit for Consumers,'” Page 5, September 22, 2011
Ms. Baptiste said she asked Chase to revoke the automatic withdrawals in October 2011, but was told that she had to ask the lenders instead. In one month, her bank records show, the lenders tried to take money from her account at least six times. Chase charged her $812 in fees and deducted over $600 from her child-support payments to cover them.
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DEYOUNG: Had I written that paper, and had I known 100 percent of the facts about where the data came from and who paid for it — yes, I would have disclosed that. I don’t think it matters one way or the other in terms of what the research found and what the paper says.
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.
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There’s one more thing I want to add to today’s discussion. The payday-loan industry is, in a lot of ways, an easy target. But the more I think about it, the more it seems like a symptom of a much larger problem, which is this: remember, in order to get a payday loan, you need to have a job and a bank account. So what does it say about an economy in which millions of working people make so little money that they can’t pay their phone bills, that they can’t absorb one hit like a ticket for smoking in public?
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DUBNER: Well, Christopher, that defense sounds, at least to me, like pretty weak sauce. I mean, the university writing center doesn’t have as much vested interest in the outcome of my writing as an industry group does for an academic paper about that industry, right?
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“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.”
SEBASTIAN McKAMEY: It’s open. It’s outside. So I was just standing outside, waiting on the bus stop. And I lit me a cigarette and the officers pulled up on me and was like, “Hey, you know you can’t smoke here?” I was like, “No, I didn’t know. I don’t see no signs.” So they wrote me a ticket.
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?”
Proponents of minimal regulations for payday loan businesses argue that some individuals that require the use of payday loans have already exhausted other alternatives. Such consumers could potentially be forced to illegal sources if not for payday loans. Tom Lehman, an advocate of payday lending, said:
These arguments are countered in two ways. First, the history of borrowers turning to illegal or dangerous sources of credit seems to have little basis in fact according to Robert Mayer’s 2012 “Loan Sharks, Interest-Rate Caps, and Deregulation”. Outside of specific contexts, interest rates caps had the effect of allowing small loans in most areas without an increase of “loan sharking”. Next, since 80% of payday borrowers will roll their loan over at least one time  because their income prevents them from paying the principal within the repayment period, they often report turning to friends or family members to help repay the loan  according to a 2012 report from the Center for Financial Services Innovation. In addition, there appears to be no evidence of unmet demand for small dollar credit in states which prohibit or strictly limit payday lending.
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