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.
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.
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The adviser, Rick Gates, was a deputy to Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort and stayed on as a liaison between Trump’s transition team and the Republican National Committee after the election, well after Manafort was forced to step down over his alleged ties to dirty Ukrainian money. Manafort and Gates’s arrival to the campaign team coincided with the most pivotal Russia-related episode of the election: the release of emails that had been stolen from the Democratic National Committee by hackers working for the GRU, Russia’s premier military-intelligence unit. The GRU remained at the center of the Russians’ interference campaign, using the Guccifer 2.0 persona, DCLeaks.com, and WikiLeaks to publish the hacked material in droves before the election. Gates and Manafort, meanwhile, remained in touch with the former GRU officer who the special counsel’s office believes was still connected to Russian intelligence services during the election—raising new questions about what the campaign officials knew about Russia’s hack-and-dump scheme.
In a profitability analysis by Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law, it was determined that the average profit margin from seven publicly traded payday lending companies (including pawn shops) in the U.S. was 7.63%, and for pure payday lenders it was 3.57%. These averages are less than those of other traditional lending institutions such as credit unions and banks.
Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. Today’s episode was produced by Christopher Werth. The rest of our staff includes Arwa Gunja, Jay Cowit, Merritt Jacob, Greg Rosalsky, Kasia Mychajlowycz, Alison Hockenberry and Caroline English. Thanks also to Bill Healy for his help with this episode from Chicago. If you want more Freakonomics Radio, you can also find us on Twitter and Facebook and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or wherever else you get your free, weekly podcasts.
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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.
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.
ZINMAN: And in that study, in that data, I find evidence that payday borrowers in Oregon actually seemed to be harmed. They seemed to be worse off by having that access to payday loans taken away. And so that’s a study that supports the pro-payday loan camp.
A cash advance provider who follows the CFSA best practices, as Allied Cash Advance does, will give all customers the right to rescind, or return, a payday loan within a clearly stated, limited time frame.
Bank wires are a fast and efficient way to receive immediate funds. Bank wires usually have a charge for this emergency payday loan service and are usually deducted from the loan amount you receive. For example, if you request an emergency cash advance for $300, the amount transmitted to your bank account will usually be less than $300 after deducting any wire fee.
You do your best to ask as many questions as you can of the research and of the researchers themselves. You ask where the data comes from, whether it really means what they say it means, and you ask them to explain why they might be wrong, or compromised. You make the best judgment you can, and then you move forward and try to figure out how the research really matters. Because the whole idea of the research, presumably, is to help solve some larger problem.
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.
They’re called payday loans because payday is typically when borrowers can pay them back. They’re usually small, short-term loans that can tie you over in an emergency. The interest rates, on an annualized basis, can be in the neighborhood of 400 percent — much, much higher than even the most expensive credit cards. But again, they’re meant to be short-term loans, so you’re not supposed to get anywhere near that annualized rate. Unless, of course, you do. Because if you can’t pay off your payday loan, you might take out another one — a rollover, it’s called. This can get really expensive. Really, really, really expensive — so much so that some people think payday loans are just evil. This guy, for instance:
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DEYOUNG: Studies that have looked at this have found that once you control for the demographics and income levels in these areas and these communities, the racial characteristics no longer drive the location decisions. As you might expect, business people don’t care what color their customers are, as long as their money’s green.
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.
The idea that interest rates should have limits goes back to the beginning of civilization. Even before money was invented, the early Babylonians set a ceiling on how much grain could be paid in interest, according to Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and a senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: They recognized the pernicious effects of trapping a family with debt that could not be paid back. In the United States, early, illegal payday-like loans trapped many borrowers, and harassment by lenders awoke the ire of progressives. States began to pass versions of the Uniform Small Loan Law, drafted in 1916 under the supervision of Arthur Ham, the first director of the Russell Sage Foundation’s Department of Remedial Loans. Ham recognized a key truth about small, short-term loans: They are expensive for lenders to make. His model law tried to encourage legal short-term lending by capping rates at a high enough level—states determined their own ceilings, typically ranging from 36 to 42 percent a year—to enable lenders to turn a profit. This was highly controversial, but many Americans still could not secure loans at that rate; their risk of default was deemed too great. Some of them eventually turned to the mob, which grew strong during Prohibition.
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.
Although the federal Truth in Lending Act does require payday lenders to disclose their finance charges, many borrowers overlook the costs. Most loans are for 30 days or less and help borrowers to meet short-term liabilities. Loan amounts on these loans are usually from $100 to $1,500. Oftentimes these loans can be rolled over for additional finance charges and many borrowers are often repeat customers. A number of court cases have been filed against these lenders as lending laws following the 2008 financial crisis have been enacted to create a more transparent and fair lending market for consumers.
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.
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.
“For the many people that struggle to repay their payday loans every year this is a giant leap forward. From January next year, if you borrow £100 for 30 days and pay back on time, you will not pay more than £24 in fees and charges and someone taking the same loan for fourteen days will pay no more than £11.20. That’s a significant saving.
WERTH: So, what Fusaro did was he set up a randomized control trial where he gave one group of borrowers a traditional high-interest-rate payday loan and then he gave another group of borrowers no interest rate on their loans and then he compared the two and he found out that both groups were just as likely to roll over their loans again. And we should say, again, the research was funded by CCRF.
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.
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The payday lending industry argues that conventional interest rates for lower dollar amounts and shorter terms would not be profitable. For example, a $100 one-week loan, at a 20% APR (compounded weekly) would generate only 38 cents of interest, which would fail to match loan processing costs. Research shows that on average, payday loan prices moved upward, and that such moves were “consistent with implicit collusion facilitated by price focal points”.
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.”
Alternative Financial Services: Innovating to Meet Customer Needs in an Evolving Regulatory Framework, by John Hecht, Research Analyst, Stephens Inc. (now at Jefferies & Company Inc.) (February, 2014).
A payday loan (also called a payday advance, salary loan, payroll loan, small dollar loan, short term, or cash advance loan) is a small, short-term unsecured loan, “regardless of whether repayment of loans is linked to a borrower’s payday.” The loans are also sometimes referred to as “cash advances,” though that term can also refer to cash provided against a prearranged line of credit such as a credit card. Payday advance loans rely on the consumer having previous payroll and employment records. Legislation regarding payday loans varies widely between different countries, and in federal systems, between different states or provinces.
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