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Payday loans have been in the news a lot recently, but not all short-term loans carry the same risks. LendUp Loans are an alternative to traditional payday loans from a licensed lender. A typical payday loan is exactly that: You borrow money against your next paycheck. However, borrowing against your paycheck often imposes several restrictions on this type of lending:
“For the many people that struggle to repay their payday loans every year this is a giant leap forward. From January next year, if you borrow £100 for 30 days and pay back on time, you will not pay more than £24 in fees and charges and someone taking the same loan for fourteen days will pay no more than £11.20. That’s a significant saving.
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At an industry conference last year, payday lenders discussed the benefits of heading offshore. Jer Ayler, president of the payday loan consultant Trihouse Inc., pinpointed Cancún, the Bahamas and Costa Rica as particularly fertile locales.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (left) talks with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray after he testified about Wall Street reform at a 2014 Senate Banking Committee hearing. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
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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.
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Later on, the payday lenders gave Mann the data that showed how long it actually took those exact customers to pay off their loans. About 60 percent of them paid off the loan within 14 days of the date they’d predicted.
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.
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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Comparatively the profit margin of Starbucks for the measured time period was just over 9%, and comparison lenders had an average profit margin of 13.04%. These comparison lenders were mainstream companies: Capital One, GE Capital, HSBC, Money Tree, and American Express Credit.[35]
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”.[40] 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 [11] 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 [41] 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.
Notice to Texas and Ohio Customers: In Texas and Ohio, RISE is a Credit Services Organization/Credit Access Business operating in accordance with each state’s applicable Credit Services Organization Act. In Ohio, RISE Credit Service of Ohio, LLC d/b/a RISE is licensed by the Department of Commerce, Division of Financial Institutions Certificate No. CS.900086.000. In Texas, RISE Credit Service of Texas, LLC d/b/a RISE is licensed by the Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner, License No. 16507-62536. RISE is not the lender or a fiduciary of the lender.
DeYoung also argues that most payday borrowers know exactly what they’re getting into when they sign up; that they’re not unwitting and desperate people who are being preyed upon. He points to a key piece of research by Ronald Mann; that’s another co-author on the New York Fed blog post.
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.
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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),[4][5] with 36–40% APR generally the norm.
A study by the FDIC Center for Financial Research[36] 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.”
NOTICE: This disclosure is being provided to you pursuant to our terms of service with Google®, Inc. It is not required by any federal, state or local law. Our lenders may offer you a loan with an APR between 20% and 300%. The APR on a small dollar, short term loan represents the amount of your loan, cost of the loan, term of the loan and repayment amounts and timing. Loans on the lower end of the APR range may be for a larger loan amount and for a longer term. Loans on the higher end of the APR range may be for a smaller loan amount and for a shorter term. Depending on your credit needs and desire to pay your loan off quickly, your lender may only offer you loans with an APR near the high end of the range noted above.
A recent law journal note summarized the justifications for regulating payday lending. The summary notes that while it is difficult to quantify the impact on specific consumers, there are external parties who are clearly affected by the decision of a borrower to get a payday loan. Most directly impacted are the holders of other low interest debt from the same borrower, which now is less likely to be paid off since the limited income is first used to pay the fee associated with the payday loan. The external costs of this product can be expanded to include the businesses that are not patronized by the cash-strapped payday customer to the children and family who are left with fewer resources than before the loan. The external costs alone, forced on people given no choice in the matter, may be enough justification for stronger regulation even assuming that the borrower him or herself understood the full implications of the decision to seek a payday loan.[24]
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.
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?
The intention is for cash loans to be used only as a short-term financial instrument. At Cash Now, we strongly advise all borrowers to pay back their loan in full and on or before the due date in order to avoid nonpayment and/or late fees. If you are of the belief that you may have trouble paying off a cash loan after borrowing it, we recommend that you explore different loan alternatives before you apply for a loan via this website.
The Twisted economics of payday lending can’t be separated from its predatory nature. The industry has always insisted that its products are intended only for short-term emergency use and that it doesn’t encourage repeat borrowing—the debt trap. “This is like the tobacco industry saying that smoking doesn’t cause cancer,” says Sheila Bair, the former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Study after study has found that repeat borrowing accounts for a large share of the industry’s revenues. Flannery and Samolyk found that “high per-customer loan volume” helps payday lenders cover their overhead and offset defaults. At a financial-services event in 2007, Daniel Feehan, then the CEO of the payday lender Cash America, said, according to multiple reports (here and here), “The theory in the business is you’ve got to get that customer in, work to turn him into a repetitive customer, long-term customer, because that’s really where the profitability is.”
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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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.
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An online cash advance, or cash loan, is a short-term loan. Usually, the amount of money involved is relatively small. Often, the amount can be repaid in only one or two payments, which is why such loans are sometimes referred to as payday loans. Cash advance loans can be taken out for a few weeks and paid back once you receive a paycheck from your employer.
Jump up ^ $15 on $100 over 14 days is ratio of 15/100 = 0.15, so this is a 14-day rate. Over a year (365.25 days) this 14-day rate can aggregate to either 391% (assuming you carry the $100 loan for a year, and pay $15 every 14 days: 0.15 x (365.25/14) = 3.91, which converts to a percentage increase (interest rate) of: 3.91 x 100 = 391%) or 3733% (assuming you take out a new loan every 14 days that will cover your principal and “charge”, and every new loan is taken at same 15% “charge” of the amount borrowed: (1 + 0.15)365.25/14 − 1 = 37.33, which converts to a percentage increase (interest rate) of: 37.33 x 100 = 3733%).
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.
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).
Online payday loans can be the right solution to your short-term financial troubles because they are easily obtained and easily repaid, and the costs associated with them are highly comparable to other forms of credit as long as they are repaid on time. Bad credit or no credit are also welcomed to try to get matched with a lender.
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:
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.
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A 2009 study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Adair Morse[51] found that in natural disaster areas where payday loans were readily available consumers fared better than those in disaster zones where payday lending was not present. Not only were fewer foreclosures recorded, but such categories as birth rate were not affected adversely by comparison. Moreover, Morse’s study found that fewer people in areas served by payday lenders were treated for drug and alcohol addiction.

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