Allison Martin is a copywriter and financial mentor. She specializes in educating individuals about personal finance through insightful and candid articles. Allison earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Accountancy degrees from the University of South Florida. She also covers personal finance topics at Love to Know and Lifehack. www.allisonemartin.com
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.
This reinforces the findings of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) study from 2011 which found black and Hispanic families, recent immigrants, and single parents were more likely to use payday loans. In addition, their reasons for using these products were not as suggested by the payday industry for one time expenses, but to meet normal recurring obligations.
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.
Diane Standaert is the director of state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending, which has offices in North Carolina, California, and Washington, D.C. The CRL calls itself a “nonprofit, non-partisan organization” with a focus on “fighting predatory lending practices.” You’ve probably already figured out that the CRL is anti-payday loan. Standaert argues that payday loans are often not used how the industry markets them, as a quick solution to a short-term emergency.
As for federal regulation, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act gave the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) specific authority to regulate all payday lenders, regardless of size. Also, the Military Lending Act imposes a 36% rate cap on tax refund loans and certain payday and auto title loans made to active duty armed forces members and their covered dependents, and prohibits certain terms in such loans.
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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The stakes are very high, not just for the lenders, but for the whole “new middle class.” It seems obvious that there must be a far less expensive way of providing credit to the less creditworthy. But once you delve into the question of why rates are so high, you begin to realize that the solution isn’t obvious at all.
Payday lenders will attempt to collect on the consumer’s obligation first by simply requesting payment. If internal collection fails, some payday lenders may outsource the debt collection, or sell the debt to a third party.
Petru Stelian Stoianovici, a researcher from Charles River Associates, and Michael T. Maloney, an economics professor from Clemson University, found “no empirical evidence that payday lending leads to more bankruptcy filings, which casts doubt on the debt trap argument against payday lending.”
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Many countries offer basic banking services through their postal systems. The United States Post Office Department offered such as service in the past. Called the United States Postal Savings System it was discontinued in 1967. In January 2014 the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service issued a white paper suggesting that the USPS could offer banking services, to include small dollar loans for under 30% APR. Support and criticism quickly followed; opponents of postal banking argued that as payday lenders would be forced out of business due to competition, the plan is nothing more than a scheme to support postal employees.
DEYOUNG: This is why price caps are a bad idea. Because if the solution was implemented as I suggest and, in fact, payday lenders lost some of their most profitable customers — because now we’re not getting that fee the 6th and 7th time from them — then the price would have to go up. And we’d let the market determine whether or not at that high price we still have folks wanting to use the product.
The payday industry, and some political allies, argue the CFPB is trying to deny credit to people who really need it. Now, it probably does not surprise you that the payday industry doesn’t want this kind of government regulation. Nor should it surprise you that a government agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is trying to regulate an industry like the payday industry.
“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.
One problem with the payday-lending industry—for regulators, for lenders, for the public interest—is that it defies simple economic intuition. For instance, in most industries, more competition means lower prices for consumers. That maxim surely helped guide the deregulation of the fringe lending business in the 1990s—and some advocates still believe that further deregulation is the key to making payday loans affordable. Yet there’s little evidence that a proliferation of payday lenders produces this consumer-friendly competitive effect. Quite the contrary: While states with no interest-rate limits do have more competition—there are more stores—borrowers in those states (Idaho, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin) pay the highest prices in the country, more than double those paid by residents of some other states, according to Pew. In states where the interest rate is capped, the rate that payday lenders charge gravitates right toward the cap. “Instead of a race to the lowest rates, it’s a race to the highest rates,” says Tom Feltner, the director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America.
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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.
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.
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Other options are available to most payday loan customers. These include pawnbrokers, credit union loans with lower interest and more stringent terms which take longer to gain approval, employee access to earned but unpaid wages, credit payment plans, paycheck cash advances from employers (“advance on salary”), auto pawn loans, bank overdraft protection, cash advances from credit cards, emergency community assistance plans, small consumer loans, installment loans and direct loans from family or friends. The Pew Charitable Trusts found in 2013 their study on the ways in which users pay off payday loans that borrowers often took a payday loan to avoid one of these alternatives, only to turn to one of them to pay off the payday loan.
If you take out a payday loan that is equivalent to your next check, you won’t have anything left to pay bills or make it to the next paycheck. That leaves you in a cycle where you are lining up your next loan as you pay off the first. Payday loan alternatives can help you avoid that debt cycle and still get the capital you need.
Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) crafted a long-awaited rule on payday lending—the industry offering short-term loans that exploit poor consumers—to clamp down on fraud by forcing lenders to “reasonably determine that the consumer has the ability to repay the loan” (rather than defaulting or submitting to even more exploitative terms). The rule, spearheaded by the Obama administration and widely supported by consumer and public-interest groups, allowed exemptions for smaller-scale loans by requiring lenders to follow certain consumer-protection provisions rather than go through the “ability-to-pay” determination.
You’ve stopped the cycle of borrowing and retaken control. With our expert debt advice and budgeting help via Debt Remedy or on the phone you can manage your outgoings within your income, without the need to take more credit.
At the turn of the 20th century, prominent physicians who were trying to understand where mental illness comes from seized on a new theory: autointoxication. Intestinal microbes, these doctors suggested, are actually dangerous to their human hosts. They have a way of inducing “fatigue, melancholia, and the neuroses,” as a historical article in the journal Gut Pathogens recounts.
That’s the most famous version of the trolley problem, a philosophical thought experiment popularized in the 1970s. There are other variants; the next most famous asks if you’d push a fat man off a bridge to stop the trolley rather than killing even one of the supposedly slim workers. In addition to its primary role as a philosophical exercise, the trolley problem has been used a tool in psychology—and more recently, it has become the standard for asking moral questions about self-driving cars.
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 loans are legal in 27 states, and 9 others allows some form of short term storefront lending with restrictions. The remaining 14 and the District of Columbia forbid the practice. The annual percentage rate (APR) is also limited in some jurisdictions to prevent usury. And in some states, there are laws limiting the number of loans a borrower can take at a single time.
Income tax refund anticipation loans are not technically payday loans (because they are repayable upon receipt of the borrower’s income tax refund, not at his next payday), but they have similar credit and cost characteristics. A car title loan is secured by the borrower’s car, but are available only to borrowers who hold clear title (i.e., no other loans) to a vehicle. The maximum amount of the loan is some fraction of the resale value of the car. A similar credit facility seen in the UK is a logbook loan secured against a car’s logbook, which the lender retains. These loans may be available on slightly better terms than an unsecured payday loan, since they are less risky to the lender. If the borrower defaults, then the lender can attempt to recover costs by repossessing and reselling the car.
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.
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?
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