So far, Facebook is standing by its VP, who said this about his intentions on Twitter: “I don’t agree with the post today and I didn’t agree with it even when I wrote it. The purpose of this post, like many others I have written internally, was to bring to the surface issues I felt deserved more discussion with the broader company.”
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.
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.
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?
And yet it is surprisingly difficult to condemn the business wholesale. Emergency credit can be a lifeline, after all. And while stories about the payday-lending industry’s individual victims are horrible, the research on its effect at a more macro level is limited and highly ambiguous. One study shows that payday lending makes local communities more resilient; another says it increases personal bankruptcies; and so on.
You do your best to ask as many questions as you can of the research and of the researchers themselves. You ask where the data comes from, whether it really means what they say it means, and you ask them to explain why they might be wrong, or compromised. You make the best judgment you can, and then you move forward and try to figure out how the research really matters. Because the whole idea of the research, presumably, is to help solve some larger problem.
So we are left with at least two questions, I guess. Number one: how legitimate is any of the payday-loan research we’ve been telling you about today, pro or con? And number two: how skeptical should we be of any academic research?
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As you find when you dig into just about any modern economic scenario, most people have at least one horse in every race, which makes it hard to separate advocacy and reality. So let’s go where Freakonomics Radio often goes when we want to find someone who does not have a horse in the race: to academia. Let’s ask some academic researchers if the payday-loan industry is really as nasty as it seems.
They’re called payday loans because payday is typically when borrowers can pay them back. They’re usually small, short-term loans that can tie you over in an emergency. The interest rates, on an annualized basis, can be in the neighborhood of 400 percent — much, much higher than even the most expensive credit cards. But again, they’re meant to be short-term loans, so you’re not supposed to get anywhere near that annualized rate. Unless, of course, you do. Because if you can’t pay off your payday loan, you might take out another one — a rollover, it’s called. This can get really expensive. Really, really, really expensive — so much so that some people think payday loans are just evil. This guy, for instance:
This idea has been around since at least 2005, when Sheila Bair, before her tenure at the FDIC, wrote a paper arguing that banks were the natural solution. But that was more than a decade ago. “The issue has been intractable,” Bair says. Back in 2008, the FDIC began a two-year pilot program encouraging banks to make small-dollar loans with an annualized interest-rate cap of 36 percent. But it didn’t take off, at least in part because of the time required for bank personnel, who are paid a lot more than payday-store staffers, to underwrite the loans. The idea is also at odds with a different federal mandate: Since the financial crisis, bank regulators have been insisting that their charges take less risk, not more. After guidelines issued by the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency warned of the risks involved in small-dollar lending, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bankcorp stopped offering payday-like loans altogether.
DEYOUNG: Oh, I do think that our history of usury laws is a direct result of our Judeo-Christian background. And even Islamic banking, which follows in the same tradition. But clearly interest on money lent or borrowed has a, has been looked at non-objectively, let’s put it that way. So the shocking APR numbers if we apply them to renting a hotel room or renting an automobile or lending your father’s gold watch or your mother’s silverware to the pawnbroker for a month, the APRs come out similar. So the shock from these numbers is, we recognize the shock here because we are used to calculating interest rates on loans but not interest rates on anything else. And it’s human nature to want to hear bad news and it’s, you know, the media understands this and so they report bad news more often than good news. We don’t hear this. It’s like the houses that don’t burn down and the stores that don’t get robbed.
DUBNER: Well, here’s what seems to me, at least, the puzzle, which is that repeat rollovers — which represent a relatively small number of the borrowers and are a problem for those borrowers — but it sounds as though those repeat rollovers are the source of a lot of the lender’s profits. So, if you were to eliminate the biggest problem from the consumer’s side, wouldn’t that remove the profit motive from the lender’s side, maybe kill the industry?
On the other hand, this leaves about 40 percent of borrowers who weren’t good at predicting when they’d pay the loan off. And Mann found a correlation between bad predictions and past payday loan use.
Payday loans charge borrowers high levels of interest. These loans may be considered predatory loans as they have a reputation for extremely high interest and hidden provisions that charge borrowers added fees.
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Over the last couple of years “payday” loans have become increasingly popular throughout the United States, including in the State of Texas. For a variety of reasons, the rates at which borrowers default on these loans is extremely high. If you have defaulted on a payday loan, or are concerned that you will default on one in the near future, you may be concerned that you will go to jail for not paying the loan. This is not true. You will not go to jail if you do not pay a “payday” loan.
The “checks cashed” storefronts that line the main drags of poor communities across the country are largely linked to large banking monopolies, sucking assets from poor communities to pad multinational capital flows. According to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), average interest rates for payday loans are nearly 400 percent APR. The CFPB’s rule was long overdue, after five years of deliberations in rulemaking, during which the financial-industry lobbyists complained that it would ruin a system that was the only pathway to credit for 30 million consumers. But activists say that, instead of being “served” with deceptive financial predation, underbanked communities really need sustainable financial infrastructures that provide transparent, ethical loans that are structured for repayment, not usury. Many community groups have been promoting nonprofit credit unions and other community-based banking institutions, such as government-run public banks and postal banking, that allow poor households to build assets on equitable terms, and are trying to set new industry standards based on fair-lending principles.
Does a researcher who’s out to make a splash with some sexy finding necessarily operate with more bias than a researcher who’s operating out of pure intellectual curiosity? I don’t think that’s necessarily so. Like life itself, academic research is a case-by-case scenario.
It may seem inconceivable that a company couldn’t make money collecting interest at a 36 percent annual clip. One reason it’s true is that default rates are high. A study in 2007 by two economists, Mark Flannery and Katherine Samolyk, found that defaults account for more than 20 percent of operating expenses at payday-loan stores. By comparison, loan losses in 2007 at small U.S. commercial banks accounted for only 3 percent of expenses, according to the Kansas City Fed. This isn’t surprising, given that payday lenders don’t look carefully at a borrower’s income, expenses, or credit history to ensure that she can repay the loan: That underwriting process, the bedrock of conventional lending, would be ruinously expensive when applied to a $300, two-week loan. Instead, lenders count on access to the borrower’s checking account—but if that’s empty due to other withdrawals or overdrafts, it’s empty.
Bill C28 supersedes the Criminal Code of Canada for the purpose of exempting Payday loan companies from the law, if the provinces passed legislation to govern payday loans. Payday loans in Canada are governed by the individual provinces. All provinces, except Newfoundland and Labrador, have passed legislation. For example, in Ontario loans have a maximum rate of 14,299% Effective Annual Rate (“EAR”)($21 per $100, over 2 weeks). As of 2017, major payday lenders have reduced the rate to $18 per $100, over 2 weeks.
The rule would also target longer-term loans with a 36 percent yearly interest rate or higher, restricting lenders from directly extracting money from the consumer’s account, without the borrower’s explicit consent, if they failed to repay twice in a row. Any direct withdrawal from a consumer’s account would also require standard prior notification. The commonsense rule was projected to reduce the industry’s yearly revenue by two-thirds.
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.
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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