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.
But if the only explanation for high rates were that lenders can, so they do, you’d expect to see an industry awash in profits. It is not, especially today. The industry’s profits are tough to track—many companies are private—but in 2009, Ernst & Young released a study, commissioned by the Financial Service Centers of America, finding that stores’ average profit margin before tax and interest was less than 10 percent. (For the sake of comparison, over the past five quarters, the consumer-financial-services industry as a whole averaged a pretax profit margin of more than 30 percent, according to CSIMarket, a provider of financial information.) A perusal of those financial statements that are public confirms a simple fact: As payday lending exploded, the economics of the business worsened—and are today no better than middling. The Community Financial Services Association argues that a 36 percent rate cap, like the one in place for members of the military, is a death knell because payday lenders can’t make money at that rate, and this seems to be correct. In states that cap their rates at 36 percent a year or lower, the payday lenders vanish. In New York, which caps payday lending at 25 percent a year, there are no stores at all.
There are many different ways to calculate annual percentage rate of a loan. Depending on which method is used, the rate calculated may differ dramatically; e.g., for a $15 charge on a $100 14-day payday loan, it could be (from the borrower’s perspective) anywhere from 391% to 3,733%.
In early 1967, on vacation in Jamaica, King; his wife, Coretta; and two aides rented a house with no telephone. There he wrote the first draft of a book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, which described the opportunities for—and obstacles to—eradicating poverty at last. (Coretta wrote the foreword.) In this excerpt from the published book, King predicted that white resistance to racial equality would stiffen when the agenda moved on to far-costlier measures—improvements in jobs, schools, and housing.
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ZINMAN: The Pentagon in recent years has made it a big policy issue. They have posited that having very ready access to payday loans outside of bases has caused financial distress and distractions that have contributed to declines in military readiness and job performance.
MANN: And so, if you walked up to the counter and asked for a loan, they would hand you this sheet of paper and say, “If you’ll fill out this survey for us, we’ll give you $15 to $25,” I forget which one it was. And then I get the surveys sent to me and I can look at them.
In another study, by Gregory Elliehausen, Division of Research of the Federal Reserve System and Financial Services Research Program at the George Washington University School of Business, 41% earn between $25,000 and $50,000, and 39% report incomes of $40,000 or more. 18% have an income below $25,000.
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MCKAMEY: I got like $200 and it was just like I needed some real quick cash. There wasn’t no hesitations, no nothing. They asked me for certain pieces of information. I provided the information, and I got my loan.
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.
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.
According to Amy Traub of the think tank Demos, “many advocates are worried that it’s the beginning of a larger effort to undo the CFPB’s successful work of protecting consumers.” The payday-lending sector has historically preyed on poor, “underbanked” communities, marketing short-term loans at astronomically high interest rates. Payday loans trade on exploitative debt schemes, as borrowers spiral into a deepening cycle of repeated over-borrowing and financial crisis. Historically, the industry has disproportionately targeted consumers who are extremely poor, black, recently divorced or separated, and renting their housing.
Lenders use your credit score to determine if you’re a good or bad risk for a loan. Credit scores range from 300 to 850. The higher the number, the better your score, and the easier it is to get approved for loans. Many lenders consider consumers with scores of 620 or lower to be a bad credit risk.
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)
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.
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.”
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The exponential growth of payday lending over the past few decades can be traced back to federal financial deregulation in the 1970s and 1980s. The very reason Trump installed Mulvaney…is because he is a de-regulator…. At the very least, this latest move is yet another wink and nod to financial predators that it’s open season on poor people, working families, and communities of color.
Installment loans offer larger loan amounts and longer repayment terms than payday loans typically provide. An installment loan offers you the ability to repay over time, according to your pay schedule.
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