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.
CHRISTOPHER WERTH: Right. Well, it’s a non-profit watchdog, relatively new organization. Its mission is to expose corporate and political misconduct, primarily by using open-records requests, like the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA requests, to produce evidence.
With annual interest rates around 400 percent, payday loans are called exploitative by critics. But the industry says those rates are necessary. And nearly 90% of borrowers are satisfied customers. (photo: stallio)
FULMER: We have to wait for the final proposal rules to come out. But where they appear to be going is down a path that would simply eliminate a product instead of reforming the industry or better regulating the industry.
FULMER: If you associate the cost of paying our rent to our local landlords, paying our light bill and electrical fees, paying our other fees to local merchants who provide services to us, we operate on a relatively thin margin.
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%.
We know being in payday loan debt can be scary. If the repayment date looms and you can’t afford to repay, we can help. Follow these five steps to help deal with payday loans you cannot afford to pay.
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).
WERTH: The best example concerns an economist named Marc Fusaro at Arkansas Tech University. So, in 2011, he released a paper called “Do Payday Loans Trap Consumers in a Cycle of Debt?” And his answer was, basically, no, they don’t.
Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) crafted a long-awaited rule on payday lending—the industry offering short-term loans that exploit poor consumers—to clamp down on fraud by forcing lenders to “reasonably determine that the consumer has the ability to repay the loan” (rather than defaulting or submitting to even more exploitative terms). The rule, spearheaded by the Obama administration and widely supported by consumer and public-interest groups, allowed exemptions for smaller-scale loans by requiring lenders to follow certain consumer-protection provisions rather than go through the “ability-to-pay” determination.
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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CHICAGO—Americans hear a lot these days about the country’s urban-rural divide. Rural counties are poorer; urban ones richer. Rural areas are losing jobs; urban ones are gaining them. People with a college education are leaving rural areas. They’re moving to urban places.
Whatever you want to call it — wage deflation, structural unemployment, the absence of good-paying jobs — isn’t that a much bigger problem? And, if so, what’s to be done about that? Next time on Freakonomics Radio, we will continue this conversation by looking at one strange, controversial proposal for making sure that everyone’s got enough money to get by.
Allison Martin is a copywriter and financial mentor. She specializes in educating individuals about personal finance through insightful and candid articles. Allison earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Accountancy degrees from the University of South Florida. She also covers personal finance topics at Love to Know and Lifehack. www.allisonemartin.com
The suspension of the rule signals a new direction for the CFPB, which is now headed by Mick Mulvaney, a longtime Trump crony and eminent Wall Street warrior who has a record of fiercely protecting financiers, not consumers. Mulvaney immediately followed the rule’s suppression by launching an internal review of the agency, which watchdog groups see as another step toward reversal of the agency’s founding mission. Paralleling Trump’s anti-Obama vendetta, Mulvaney is poised to dismantle the agency’s regulatory framework, which prior to his tenure aimed at promoting modest but meaningful limits on the financial industry’s exploitative power. And his first move is fittingly to roll back a major instrument of fraud and usury that’s aimed at the poorest consumers.
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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doesn’t have the power to ban payday lending outright, or to set a nationwide interest-rate cap, but it can act to prevent practices deemed “unfair, abusive, or deceptive.” In March 2015, it announced that it was considering a set of rules for most small-dollar loans (up to $500) that consumers are required to repay within 45 days. The goal is to put an end to payday-lending debt traps.
Payday lenders charge borrowers extremely high levels of interest which can range up to 500% in annual percentage yield (APR). Most states have usury laws that limit interest charges to less than approximately 35% however payday lenders fall under exemptions that allow for their high interest. Since these loans qualify for many state lending loopholes, borrowers should beware. Regulations on these loans are governed by the individual states with some states even outlawing payday loans of any kind.
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.
Customer Notice: Payday Loans are typically for two-to four-week terms (up to six months in IL). Some borrowers, however, use Payday Loans for several months, which can be expensive. Payday Loans (also referred to as Payday Advances, Cash Advances, Deferred Deposit Transactions/Loans) and high-interest loans should be used for short-term financial needs only and not as a long-term financial solution. Customers with credit difficulties should seek credit counseling before entering into any loan transaction. See State Center for specific information and requirements.
Brian Melzer of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that payday loan users did suffer a reduction in their household financial situation, as the high costs of repeated rollover loans impacted their ability to pay recurring bills such as utilities and rent. This assumes a payday user will rollover their loan rather than repay it, which has been shown both by the FDIC and the Consumer Finance Protection bureau in large sample studies of payday consumers 
We’ve been asking a pretty simple question today: are payday loans as evil as their critics say or overall, are they pretty useful? But even such a simple question can be hard to answer, especially when so many of the parties involved have incentive to twist the argument, and even the data, in their favor. At least the academic research we’ve been hearing about is totally unbiased, right?
Diane Standaert is the director of state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending, which has offices in North Carolina, California, and Washington, D.C. The CRL calls itself a “nonprofit, non-partisan organization” with a focus on “fighting predatory lending practices.” You’ve probably already figured out that the CRL is anti-payday loan. Standaert argues that payday loans are often not used how the industry markets them, as a quick solution to a short-term emergency.
A more nefarious theory is that banks currently make a lot of money on a payday-lending alternative that already exists—namely, overdraft protection. One study done by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that most debit-card overdraft fees are incurred on transactions of $24 or less, and yield a median fee of $34. Why would banks want to undercut such a rich source of profits?
On the critic side right now are the Center for Responsible Lending, who advocates a 36 percent cap on payday lending, which we know puts the industry out of business. The CFPB’s proposed policy is to require payday lenders to collect more information at the point of contact and that’s one of the expenses that if avoided allows payday lenders to actually be profitable, deliver the product. Now that’s, that’s not the only plank in the CFPB’s platform. They advocate limiting rollovers and cooling-off periods and the research does point out that in states where rollovers are limited, payday lenders have gotten around them by paying the loan off by refinancing. Just starting a separate loan with a separate loan number, evading the regulation. Of course that’s a regulation that was poorly written, if the payday lenders can evade it that easily.
Some other academic research we’ve mentioned today does acknowledge the role of CCRF in providing industry data — like Jonathan Zinman’s paper which showed that people suffered from the disappearance of payday-loan shops in Oregon. Here’s what Zinman writes in an author’s note: “Thanks to Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF) for providing household survey data. CCRF is a non-profit organization, funded by payday lenders, with the mission of funding objective research. CCRF did not exercise any editorial control over this paper.”
DEYOUNG: Studies that have looked at this have found that once you control for the demographics and income levels in these areas and these communities, the racial characteristics no longer drive the location decisions. As you might expect, business people don’t care what color their customers are, as long as their money’s green.
WERTH: So far, so good. But I think we should mention two things here: one, Fusaro had a co-author on the paper. Her name is Patricia Cirillo; she’s the president of a company called Cypress Research, which, by the way, is the same survey firm that produced data for the paper you mentioned earlier, about how payday borrowers are pretty good at predicting when they’ll be able to pay back their loans. And the other point, two, there was a long chain of e-mails between Marc Fusaro, the academic researcher here, and CCRF. And what they show is they certainly look like editorial interference.
Payday loans from reputable lenders are safe. Payday lending is a tightly regulated industry. Responsible lenders like Check ‘n Go follow strict guidelines which are meant to protect you, the customer.
“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.”
Because lenders do not typically run a credit check during the application process, the process of requesting a payday loan does not have an effect on your credit score. Instead, they inquire about your current employment status and source of income. Lenders also mandate that you submit a post-dated check to cover the amount of the loan once funds from your employer are disbursed into your account on payday.
If you do not pay your loan according to its terms, your lender may: charge you late fees, send your account to a collection agency, report your information to a consumer reporting agency which may negatively affect your credit score, offer to renew, extend or refinance your loan, which may cause you to incur additional fees, charges and interest. We are not a lender. Only your lender can provide you with information about your specific loan terms and APR and the implications for non-payment of your loan. Ask your lender for their current rates and charges and their policies for non-payment.
Standard service cash advances submitted and approved will be transmitted to your bank by the next banking day (this excludes weekends and bank holidays). If you request a standard payday loan from your lender you should receive the money the following banking day. Normally, loan requests receive Monday through Friday, will arrive at your bank the following day. Loan requests received on Friday will arrive on the following Monday (excluding holidays). If you request a standard payday loan on a Saturday or Sunday, you should receive the money on the following Tuesday.
The rule was fairly limited, compared with stricter regulations many states have adopted. The CFPB only required lenders to conduct “reasonable” checks on consumers’ financial capacity and avoid the worst forms of financial abuse. Currently, about 38 states allow for some form of payday lending, but some, like New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Arizona, have banned or limited the practice.
OBAMA: You take out a $500 loan at the rates that they’re charging at these payday loans — some cases 450 percent interest — you wind up paying more than $1,000 in interest and fees on the $500 that you borrowed … You don’t need to be a math genius to know that it’s a pretty bad deal if you’re borrowing $500 and you have to pay back $1,000 in interest.