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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.
DUBNER: Well, Christopher, that defense sounds, at least to me, like pretty weak sauce. I mean, the university writing center doesn’t have as much vested interest in the outcome of my writing as an industry group does for an academic paper about that industry, right?
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.
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.
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.
January 16 was supposed to be the day of reckoning for a notorious predatory-lending industry, when a rule from the Obama administration’s consumer-watchdog agency would finally start to curb a business that’s fleecing the poor. But the day the new regulation was set to kick in, the Trump White House’s newly appointed head of the agency decided to suspend the rule indefinitely, and soon announced a “review” of all agency operations, signaling a shift in mission from protecting Main Street to coddling Wall Street.
In California for example a payday lender can charge a 14-day APR of 459% for a $100 loan. Finance charges on these loans are also a significant factor for borrowers as the fees can range up to approximately $18 per $100 of loan.
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.
Prior to 2009 regulation of consumer credit was primarily conducted by the states and territories. Some states such as New South Wales and Queensland legislated effective annual interest rate caps of 48%. In 2008 the Australian states and territories referred powers of consumer credit to the Commonwealth. In 2009 the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (Cth) was introduced, which initially treated payday lenders no differently from all other lenders. In 2013 Parliament tightened regulation on the payday lending further introducing the Consumer Credit and Corporations Legislation Amendment (Enhancements) Act 2012 (Cth) which imposed an effective APR cap of 48% for all consumer credit contracts (inclusive of all fees and charges). Payday lenders who provided a loan falling within the definition of a small amount credit contract (SACC), defined as a contract provided by a non authorised-deposit taking institution for less than $2,000 for a term between 16 days and 1 year, are permitted to charge a 20% establishment fee in addition to monthly (or part thereof) fee of 4% (effective 48% p.a.). Payday lenders who provide a loan falling within the definition of a medium amount credit contract (MACC), defined as a credit contract provided by a non-deposit taking institution for between $2,000–$5,000 may charge a $400 establishment fee in addition to the statutory interest rate cap of 48%. Payday lenders are still required to comply with Responsible lending obligations applying to all creditors. Unlike other jurisdictions Australian payday lenders providing SACC or MACC products are not required to display their fees as an effective annual interest rate percentage.
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), with 36–40% APR generally the norm.
MANN: The data actually suggest that there’s a relatively small group of borrowers, in the range of 10 to 15 percent, who had been extremely heavy users, whose predictions are really bad. And I think that group of people seems to fundamentally not understand their financial situation.
There’s no single reason payday lending in its more mainstream, visible form took off in the 1990s, but an essential enabler was deregulation. States began to roll back usury caps, and changes in federal laws helped lenders structure their loans so as to avoid the caps. By 2008, writes Jonathan Zinman, an economist at Dartmouth, payday-loan stores nationwide outnumbered McDonald’s restaurants and Starbucks coffee shops combined.
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This is not true. A creditor cannot put you in jail. Only Prosecutors or U.S. Attorneys can pursue you if they believe that you have committed a crime. However, virtually every Prosecutor knows that not paying a pay day loan is not a crime and will not even attempt to prosecute you. In fact, most payday lenders know that Prosecutors have no time for a pay day lender using the state’s offices to collect their debt and crazy interest rates and will not even contact them. They will threaten to contact them in an attempt to scare you into paying. I have even seen Payday lenders lie and state that they are “Investigator Jones” in order to scare a debtor into paying a debt. Don’t let them scare you. It is not a crime to not pay a pay day loan.
It may not even surprise you to learn that the Center for Responsible Lending — the non-profit that’s fighting predatory lending — that it was founded by a credit union, the Self-Help Credit Union, which would likely stand to benefit from the elimination of payday loans. And that among the Center’s many funders are banks and other mainstream financial institutions.
A 2009 study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Adair Morse 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.
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.
DEYOUNG: If we take an objective look at the folks who use payday lending, what we find is that most users of the product are very satisfied with the product. Survey results show that almost 90 percent of users of the product say that they’re either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with the product afterwards.
Now, however, the storefront-payday-lending industry is embattled. In 2006, after much outcry about the upcropping of payday lenders near military bases, Congress passed a law capping at 36 percent the annualized rate that lenders could charge members of the military. In response to pressure from consumer advocates, many states have begun trying to rein in the industry, through either regulation or outright bans. Lenders have excelled at finding loopholes in these regulations. Still, according to Pew, the number of states in which payday lenders operate has fallen from a peak of 44 in 2004 to 36 this year. Nationwide, according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, “single-payment credit”—so named because the amount borrowed is due in one lump sum—barely grew from 2012 to 2014.
WINCY COLLINS: I advise everyone, “Do not even mess with those people. They are rip-offs.” I wouldn’t dare go back again. I don’t even like walking across the street past it. That’s just how pissed I was, and so hurt.
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
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.”
DeYoung, along with three co-authors, recently published an article about payday loans on Liberty Street Economics. That’s a blog run by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Another co-author, Donald Morgan, is an assistant vice president at the New York Fed. The article is titled “Reframing the Debate About Payday Lending.”
Let’s talk about how a pay day loan works. An individual who needs immediate cash due to a personal emergency can obtain a “payday loan” from any of the numerous payday loan companies throughout Texas. The borrower agrees to pay an exorbitant interest rate – often over 500 percent—for the loan. The borrower then gives the payday lender a post-dated check which is dated the same day as his/her next pay day. Alternatively, the borrower gives the lender the ability to take an automatic withdrawal from the borrower’s bank account on the day of the borrower’s next pay check hits his/her bank. Frequently, a borrower does not have the funds to repay the loan when it becomes due so the loan is rolled-over with yet another large chunk in interest added to the debt. Not surprisingly, borrowers often default because they cannot pay the loan plus all of the exorbitant interest and fees.
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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.
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.
Contact your state’s regulator or attorney general office for more information. You may also contact a legal aid attorney or private attorney for assistance. You can submit a complaint about payday loans with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-2372.
In May 2008, the debt charity Credit Action made a complaint to the United Kingdom Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that payday lenders were placing advertising which violated advertising regulations on the social network website Facebook. The main complaint was that the APR was either not displayed at all or not displayed prominently enough, which is clearly required by UK advertising standards.
The report was reinforced by a Federal Reserve Board (FRB) 2014 study which found that while bankruptcies did double among users of payday loans, the increase was too small to be considered significant. The same FRB researchers found that payday usage had no positive or negative impact on household welfare as measured by credit score changes over time.
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)
Wage garnishment happens when your employer holds back a legally required portion of your wages for your debts. Bank garnishment occurs when your bank or credit union is served with a garnishment order. The bank or credit union then holds an amount for the payday lender or collector as allowed by your state law. Each state will have different procedures, as well as exemptions from garnishment, that apply to both the wage and bank garnishment process. For example, under federal law certain benefits or payments are generally exempt from garnishment.
In a vicious cycle, the higher the permitted fees, the more stores, so the fewer customers each store serves, so the higher the fees need to be. Competition, in other words, does reduce profits to lenders, as expected—but it seems to carry no benefit to consumers, at least as measured by the rates they’re charged. (The old loan sharks may have been able to charge lower rates because of lower overhead, although it’s impossible to know. Robert Mayer thinks the explanation may have more to do with differences in the customer base: Because credit alternatives were sparse back then, these lenders served a more diverse and overall more creditworthy set of borrowers, so default rates were probably lower.)
The likelihood that a family will use a payday loan increases if they are unbanked, or lack access to a traditional deposit bank account. In an American context the families who will use a payday loan are disproportionately either of black or Hispanic descent, recent immigrants, and/or under-educated. These individuals are least able to secure normal, lower-interest-rate forms of credit. Since payday lending operations charge higher interest-rates than traditional banks, they have the effect of depleting the assets of low-income communities. The Insight Center, a consumer advocacy group, reported in 2013 that payday lending cost U.S communities $774 million a year.
WERTH: It’s hard to say. Actually, we just don’t know. But whatever their incentive might be, their FOIA requests have produced what look like some pretty damning e-mails between CCRF — which, again, receives funding from payday lenders — and academic researchers who have written about payday lending.
In 2014 several firms were reprimanded and required to pay compensation for illegal practices; Wonga.com for using letters untruthfully purporting to be from solicitors to demand payment—a formal police investigation for fraud was being considered in 2014—and Cash Genie, owned by multinational EZCorp, for a string of problems with the way it had imposed charges and collected money from borrowers who were in arrears.
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.
As an alternative to traditional payday loans, LendUp also has several different types of loans A traditional payday loan means you must repay the full value of the loan with your next paycheck. That could leave you in a financial tight spot. LendUp offers up to 30 days for repayment. The added flexibility makes it much easier for you to repay these alternative loans without failing to meet other financial obligations.
DIANE STANDAERT: From the data that we’ve seen, payday loans disproportionately are concentrated in African-American and Latino communities, and that African-American and Latino borrowers are disproportionately represented among the borrowing population.
ZINMAN: And what we found matching that data on job performance and job readiness supports the Pentagon’s hypothesis. We found that as payday loan access increases, servicemen job performance evaluations decline. And we see that sanctions for severely poor readiness increase as payday-loan access increases, as the spigot gets turned on. So that’s a study that very much supports the anti-payday lending camp.
All a consumer needs to get a payday loan is an open bank account in relatively good standing, a steady source of income, and identification. Lenders do not conduct a full credit check or ask questions to determine if a borrower can afford to repay the loan. Since loans are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, not the borrower’s ability to repay while meeting other financial obligations, payday loans create a debt trap.
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 creditor (the payday loan company) certainly has the right to pursue repayment through legal collection methods, including filing a small claims lawsuit against the debtor. However, they really attempt to collect the debt by calling you day and night, at work or at home. If they deposit your post-dated check and it “bounces”, or if there are insufficient funds in your account when the pay day lender attempts to repay itself, the pay day lender might tell you that you have committed a crime and are going to be arrested.
California requires that all California customers have their most recent pay stub on file with Check ‘n Go when receiving an installment loan. For online customers, please fax or e-mail Check ‘n Go your latest pay stub when applying to ensure timely processing of your loan.
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.”
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.
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