Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “Are Payday Loans Really as Evil as People Say?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)
Financial Implications – The cost associated with short term loans of up to $500 can range from 15% to 40%, and these costs may climb even higher for loans that are greater than $500 in value. Before you sign your agreement, you should check these fees carefully. Similarly, there may also be charges applied for nonsufficient funds. As an example, if your $100 loan is 15 days past due, you may be assessed a charge that is equal to 10% of the principle balance as well as a $25 nonsufficient funds fee.
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?
DeYOUNG: Borrowing money is like renting money. You get to use it two weeks and then you pay it back. You could rent a car for two weeks, right? You get to use that car. Well, if you calculate the annual percentage rate on that car rental — meaning that if you divide the amount you pay on that car by the value of that automobile — you get similarly high rates. So this isn’t about interest. This is about short-term use of a product that’s been lent to you. This is just arithmetic.
Zinman and Carrell got hold of personnel data from U.S. Air Force bases across many states that looked at job performance and military readiness. Like the Oregon-Washington study, this one also took advantage of changes in different states’ payday laws, which allowed the researchers to isolate that variable and then compare outcomes.
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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.
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STANDAERT: These payday loans cost borrowers hundreds of dollars for what is marketed as a small loan. And the Center for Responsible Lending has estimated that payday loan fees drain over $3.4 billion a year from low-income consumers stuck in the payday-loan debt trap.
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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.
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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.
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.
DEYOUNG: That’s a very standard disclaimer. The Federal Reserve System is rather unique among regulators across the world. They see the value in having their researchers exercise scientific and academic freedom because they know that inquiry is a good thing.
“… payday lending services extend small amounts of uncollateralized credit to high-risk borrowers, and provide loans to poor households when other financial institutions will not. Throughout the past decade, this “democratization of credit” has made small loans available to mass sectors of the population, and particularly the poor, that would not have had access to credit of any kind in the past.”
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.
Snappy Payday Loans offers payday loan and cash advance options in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. We currently do not offer loan options in Georgia, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina.
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.
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.”
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)
Perhaps a solution of sorts—something that is better, but not perfect—could come from more-modest reforms to the payday-lending industry, rather than attempts to transform it. There is some evidence that smart regulation can improve the business for both lenders and consumers. In 2010, Colorado reformed its payday-lending industry by reducing the permissible fees, extending the minimum term of a loan to six months, and requiring that a loan be repayable over time, instead of coming due all at once. Pew reports that half of the payday stores in Colorado closed, but each remaining store almost doubled its customer volume, and now payday borrowers are paying 42 percent less in fees and defaulting less frequently, with no reduction in access to credit. “There’s been a debate for 20 years about whether to allow payday lending or not,” says Pew’s Alex Horowitz. “Colorado demonstrates it can be much, much better.”
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.
Consumers have multiple types of loans from which to choose, including home loans, car loans, credit card advances, and home equity loans. Online installment loans are designed to help when you need a short-term loan fast and have bad credit or even no credit.
DeYOUNG: Right now, there’s very very little information on rollovers, the reasons for rollovers, and the effects of rollovers. And without academic research, the regulation is going to be based on who shouts the loudest. And that’s a really bad way to write law or regulation. That’s what I really worry about. If I could advocate a solution to this, it would be: identify the number of rollovers at which it’s been revealed that the borrower is in trouble and is being irresponsible and this is the wrong product for them. At that point the payday lender doesn’t flip the borrower into another loan, doesn’t encourage the borrower to find another payday lender. At that point the lender’s principal is then switched over into a different product, a longer term loan where he or she pays it off a little bit each month.