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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.
Bob DeYoung makes one particularly counterintuitive argument about the use of payday loans. Rather than “trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt,” as President Obama and other critics put it, DeYoung argues that payday loans may help people avoid a cycle of debt — like the late fees your phone company charges for an unpaid bill; like the overdraft fees or bounced-check fees your bank might charge you.
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.
As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read “gunshot wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the United States for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.
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.
Other options are available to most payday loan customers. These include pawnbrokers, credit union loans with lower interest and more stringent terms which take longer to gain approval, employee access to earned but unpaid wages, credit payment plans, paycheck cash advances from employers (“advance on salary”), auto pawn loans, bank overdraft protection, cash advances from credit cards, emergency community assistance plans, small consumer loans, installment loans and direct loans from family or friends. The Pew Charitable Trusts found in 2013 their study on the ways in which users pay off payday loans that borrowers often took a payday loan to avoid one of these alternatives, only to turn to one of them to pay off the payday loan.
Perhaps a solution of sorts—something that is better, but not perfect—could come from more-modest reforms to the payday-lending industry, rather than attempts to transform it. There is some evidence that smart regulation can improve the business for both lenders and consumers. In 2010, Colorado reformed its payday-lending industry by reducing the permissible fees, extending the minimum term of a loan to six months, and requiring that a loan be repayable over time, instead of coming due all at once. Pew reports that half of the payday stores in Colorado closed, but each remaining store almost doubled its customer volume, and now payday borrowers are paying 42 percent less in fees and defaulting less frequently, with no reduction in access to credit. “There’s been a debate for 20 years about whether to allow payday lending or not,” says Pew’s Alex Horowitz. “Colorado demonstrates it can be much, much better.”
In 2014 several firms were reprimanded and required to pay compensation for illegal practices; Wonga.com for using letters untruthfully purporting to be from solicitors to demand payment—a formal police investigation for fraud was being considered in 2014—and Cash Genie, owned by multinational EZCorp, for a string of problems with the way it had imposed charges and collected money from borrowers who were in arrears.
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.
The President was promoting some proposed new rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would change how payday lenders operate, or perhaps put them out of business. Which, if payday lenders are as nasty as the President makes them sound, is a good thing, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Payday Store Loans
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So, the payday business model is not like a pawn shop, where you surrender your valuable possessions to raise cash. To get a payday loan, you need to have a job and a bank account. According to Pew survey data, some 12 million Americans — roughly 1 in 20 adults — take out a payday loan in a given year. They tend to be relatively young and earn less than $40,000; they tend to not have a four-year college degree; and while the most common borrower is a white female, the rate of borrowing is highest among minorities.
Payday loans are not permitted for active-duty service members and their dependents. Federal protections under the Military Lending Act (MLA) for service members and their families took effect October 1, 2007 and were expanded October 3, 2016. Department of Defense ruless apply to loans subject to the federal Truth in Lending Act, including payday and title loans.. Lenders are prohibited from charging more than 36 percent annual interest including fees; taking a check, debit authorization or car title to secure loans; and using mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts for covered loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enforces the MLA rules. To file a complaint, click here. See: CFA press release on revised MLA rules
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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.
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Worse yet, she says, borrowers have almost no choice but to roll over their loans again and again, which jacks up the fees. In fact, rollovers, Standaert says, are an essential part of the industry’s business model.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “Are Payday Loans Really as Evil as People Say?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)
So in the state that didn’t pass it, payday lending went on as before. And this let Zinman compare data from the two states to see what happens, if anything, when payday-loan shops go away. He looked at data on bank overdrafts, and late bill payments and employment; he looked at survey data on whether people considered themselves better or worse off without access to payday loans.
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WERTH: He was communicating with CCRF’s chairman, a lawyer named Hilary Miller. He’s the president of the Payday Loan Bar Association. And he’s testified before Congress on behalf of payday lenders. And as you can see in the e-mails between him and Fusaro, again the professor here, Miller was not only reading drafts of the paper but he was making all kinds of suggestions about the paper’s structure, its tone, its content. And eventually what you see is Miller writing whole paragraphs that go pretty much verbatim straight into the finished paper.
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Snappy Payday Loans offers payday loan and cash advance options in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. We currently do not offer loan options in Georgia, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina.
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.
Lenders hold the checks until the borrower’s next payday when loans and the finance charge must be paid in one lump sum. To pay a loan, borrowers can redeem the check by paying the loan with cash, allow the check to be deposited at the bank, or just pay the finance charge to roll the loan over for another pay period. Some payday lenders also offer longer-term payday instalment loans and request authorization to electronically withdraw multiple payments from the borrower’s bank account, typically due on each pay date. Payday loans range in size from $100 to $1,000, depending on state legal maximums. The average loan term is about two weeks. Loans typically cost 400% annual interest (APR) or more. The finance charge ranges from $15 to $30 to borrow $100. For two-week loans, these finance charges result in interest rates from 390 to 780% APR. Shorter term loans have even higher APRs. Rates are higher in states that do not cap the maximum cost.
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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.
“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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DIANE STANDAERT: From the data that we’ve seen, payday loans disproportionately are concentrated in African-American and Latino communities, and that African-American and Latino borrowers are disproportionately represented among the borrowing population.
The CFPB has issued several enforcement actions against payday lenders for reasons such as violating the prohibition on lending to military members and aggressive collection tactics. The CFPB also operates a website to answer questions about payday lending. In addition, some states have aggressively pursued lenders they felt violate their state laws.
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Fulmer’s firm, Advance America, runs about 2,400 payday loan shops, across 29 states. All in, there are roughly 20,000 payday shops in the U.S., with total loan volume estimated at around $40 billion a year. If you were to go back to the early 1990s, there were fewer than 500 payday-loan stores. But the industry grew as many states relaxed their usury laws — many states, but not all. Payday lending is forbidden in 14 states, including much of the northeast and in Washington, D.C. Another nine states allow payday loans but only with more borrower-friendly terms. And that leaves 27 states where payday lenders can charge in the neighborhood of 400 percent interest — states ranging from California to Texas to Wisconsin to Alabama, which is what drew President Obama there.
Payday lenders have made effective use of the sovereign status of Native American reservations, often forming partnerships with members of a tribe to offer loans over the Internet which evade state law. However, the Federal Trade Commission has begun the aggressively monitor these lenders as well. While some tribal lenders are operated by Native Americans, there is also evidence many are simply a creation of so-called “rent-a-tribe” schemes, where a non-Native company sets up operations on tribal land.
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