Perhaps you know all this already—certainly, an assuredly mainstream backlash has been building. Last spring, President Obama weighed in, saying, “While payday loans might seem like easy money, folks often end up trapped in a cycle of debt.” The comedian Sarah Silverman, in a Last Week Tonight With John Oliver skit, put things more directly: “If you’re considering taking out a payday loan, I’d like to tell you about a great alternative. It’s called ‘AnythingElse.’ ” Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency created at the urging of Senator Elizabeth Warren in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, is trying to set new rules for short-term, small-dollar lenders. Payday lenders say the rules may put them out of business.
IMPORTANT: If your next pay date is less than 7 days away from today’s date, please choose your next pay date after today’s date. If your next pay date is on a holiday or weekend please pick the date you will receive your paycheck
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.
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.
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It’s a coincidence that Penny, the heroine of Mary H.K. Choi’s young-adult novel Emergency Contact, happens to be passing by as Sam, her local barista, is having his first panic attack. She gives him a ride, and her number, and tells him to text her when he gets home. He jokes that she’s his “emergency contact.”
Payday loans are often advertised as a way of funding an unexpected ‘one-off expense’, like a car MOT. But the reality is four in ten people take them to pay for essentials like food and petrol – putting food on the table and getting to work.
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.”
On Thursday, Buzzfeed published a controversial internal Facebook memo titled “The Ugly.” It features Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth’s 2016 reflections on the company’s aggressive efforts to connect people—and their fraught implications.
“Payday lending brings up this meta issue,” says Prentiss Cox, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s law school and a member of the consumer advisory board at the bureau: “What should consumer protection be?” If most payday-lending customers ultimately need to fall back on financial support from family members, or on bankruptcy, then perhaps the industry should be eliminated, because it merely makes the inevitable more painful. Yet some consumers do use payday loans just as the industry markets them—as a short-term emergency source of cash, one that won’t be there if the payday-lending industry goes away. The argument that payday lending shouldn’t exist would be easy if there were widespread, affordable sources of small-dollar loans. But thus far, there are not.
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%.
One of the gripes people have over how payday lenders work is over their collection process. The truth is you cannot be made to repay more than you can afford. We can tell you how much that is and crucially we can help you prove that to the payday lender.
Payday loans are often used by people who are in a financial bind and looking for temporary relief until their next paycheck, like many government workers who were furloughed due to the government shutdown this week. In most instances, this option is exercised if no other immediate resources, such as credit cards or funds from a savings account, are available.
DUBNER: Now, Bob, the blog post is sort of a pop version of a meta-study, which rolls up other research on different pieces of the issue. Persuade me that the studies that you cite in the post aren’t merely the biased rantings of some ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-costs lunatics. And I realize that at least one of the primary studies was authored by yourself, so I guess I’m asking you to prove that you are not an ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-costs lunatic.
DUBNER: Let’s say you have a one-on-one audience with President Obama. We know that the President understands economics pretty well or, I would argue that at least. What’s your pitch to the President for how this industry should be treated and not eliminated?
The staff and Erin were great. I would recommend Erin to anyone. Compared to our other lawfirm she saved us 10’s of thousands of dollars on our bankruptcy Erin is the best we don’t think we could have done it without her.
To complete a payday loan application a borrower must provide paystubs from their employer showing their current levels of income. Payday lenders often base their loan principal on a percentage of the borrower’s predicted short-term income. Many also use a borrower’s wages as collateral. Other factors influencing the loan terms also include a borrower’s credit score and credit history which is obtained from a hard credit pull at the time of application.
DeYOUNG: They choose not to overdraft the checking account and take out the payday loan because they’ve done the calculus. That overdrafting on four or five checks at their bank is going to cost them more money than taking out the payday loan.
A streamlined and quick application process leads to an instant credit decision. Submit the application and get a yes or no right away. Good credit is not a loan requirement. An instant decision means you’ll know about your loan right away, so you’ll have time to pursue alternatives if you don’t get approved. All you need to get started is
Furthermore, according to DeYoung’s own research, because the payday-loan industry is extremely competitive, the market tends to drive fees down. And while payday lenders get trashed by government regulators and activists, payday customers, he says, seem to tell a different story.
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.
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.
Line of Credits or Revolving Credit Plans (cash advances where you repay your advance at any time you choose and you can receive multiple cash advances up to your credit limit. You can borrow and repay or have a reserve in case of emergencies. These are open ended loans typically with no maturity date)
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.
“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.”
Now, we should say, that when you’re an academic studying a particular industry, often the only way to get the data is from the industry itself. It’s a common practice. But, as Zinman noted in his paper, as the researcher you draw the line at letting the industry or industry advocates influence the findings. But as our producer Christopher Werth learned, that doesn’t always seem to have been the case with payday-lending research and the Consumer Credit Research Foundation, or CCRF.
Research for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation found that a majority of Illinois payday loan borrowers earn $30,000 or less per year. Texas’ Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner collected data on 2012 payday loan usage, and found that refinances accounted for $2.01 billion in loan volume, compared with $1.08 billion in initial loan volume. The report did not include information about annual indebtedness. A letter to the editor from an industry expert argued that other studies have found that consumers fare better when payday loans are available to them. Pew’s reports have focused on how payday lending can be improved, but have not assessed whether consumers fare better with or without access to high-interest loans. Pew’s demographic analysis was based on a random-digit-dialing (RDD) survey of 33,576 people, including 1,855 payday loan borrowers.
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?
AAA Payday Cash requires no collateral to secure a loan. The requirements are easily met by most people. As with any loan, there is a fee associated with borrowing the money. AAA Payday Cash charges $25 per every $100 borrowed. The APR ranges from 304.17% to 1303.57%. This may seem like a very high rate, but in the end, it is cheaper to secure a short-term loan at a higher rate than a longer term loan at a lower rate. This company guarantees that the funds will be available within two business days of approval. This is a great way to obtain cash when in a financial situation requiring the need for fast funds.
During a speech on Thursday, President Trump revealed a striking ignorance of one of the pillars of his country’s educational system. In the course of promoting his infrastructure plan, he, a bit perplexingly, dismissed the country’s community colleges, suggesting he doesn’t know what purpose they serve. “We do not know what a ‘community college’ means,” he told the crowd in an Ohio training facility for construction apprentices, moments after expressing nostalgia for the vocational schools that flourished when he was growing up—schools that offered hands-on training in fields such as welding and cosmetology.
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.
The propensity for very low default rates seems to be an incentive for investors interested in payday lenders. In the Advance America 10-k SEC filing from December 2011 they note that their agreement with investors, “limits the average of actual charge-offs incurred during each fiscal month to a maximum of 4.50% of the average amount of adjusted transaction receivables outstanding at the end of each fiscal month during the prior twelve consecutive months”. They go on to note that for 2011 their average monthly receivables were $287.1 million and their average charge-off was $9.3 million, or 3.2%. In comparison with traditional lenders, payday firms also save on costs by not engaging in traditional forms of underwriting, relying on their easy rollover terms and the small size of each individual loan as method of diversification eliminating the need for verifying each borrowers ability to repay. It is perhaps due to this that payday lenders rarely exhibit any real effort to verify that the borrower will be able to pay the principal on their payday in addition to their other debt obligations.
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.
You know the drill by now: A runaway trolley is careening down a track. There are five workers ahead, sure to be killed if the trolley reaches them. You can throw a lever to switch the trolley to a neighboring track, but there’s a worker on that one as well who would likewise be doomed. Do you hit the switch and kill one person, or do nothing and kill five?
DEYOUNG: Yes, I like to think of myself as an objective observer of social activity, as an economist. But there’s one section of the blog where we highlight mixed evidence. That in some cases having access to payday loans looks like on balance, it helps reduce financial distress at the household level. And we also point to, I believe, an equal number of studies in that section that find the exact opposite. And then of course there’s another section in the blog where we point directly to rollovers and rollovers is where the rubber hits the road on this. If we can somehow predict which folks will not be able to handle this product and would roll it over incessantly, then we could impress upon payday lenders not to make the loans to those people. This product, in fact, is particularly badly suited to predict this because the payday lender only gets a small number of pieces of information when she makes the loan, as opposed to the information that a regulated financial institution would collect. The expense of collecting that information, of underwriting the loan in the traditional way that a bank would, would be too high for the payday lender to offer the product. If we load up additional costs on the production function of these loans, the loans won’t be profitable any longer.
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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Traub emphasizes that stronger state-level regulations will remain in place, as a repeal of the federal rule would not automatically preempt existing state and local regulations. Then again, many advocates are worried that the industry will now double down on their ongoing battle to weaken state-level protections.