Bob DeYoung makes a very complicated argument about the use of payday loans. Instead of “trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt,” as President Obama and other critics put it, DeYoung argues that payday loans can help people avoid a cycle of debt – like the late payment of your company company charges for an unpaid bill; like the overdraft fees or bounced-check your bank fees may charge you.
Check Center clients were drawn to Tambu. She knew most of their names and often greeted them by asking about their children or their jobs. She took her job seriously, and she did it well. But even though her employer paid her more than the minimum wage, Tambu did not earn enough to absorb unxpected expenses, like car repairs and illnesses.
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DEYOUNG: Well, I do not know what the president would buy. You know, we have a problem in society right now, it’s getting worse and worse, we go to loggerheads and we’re very bad at finding solutions that satisfy both sides, and I think this is a solution that does satisfy both sides, gold could at least satisfy both sides. It keeps the industry running for folks who value the product. On the other hand it identifies folks using it incorrectly and allows them to get out without you knowing being more trapped.
DEYOUNG: Yes, I like to think of myself as an objective observer of social activity, as an economist. But there is one section of the blog where we highlight mixed evidence. That helps you to reduce the risk of money at home 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 is 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 will roll it over incessantly, then we can impress on payday lenders not to make the loans to those people. This product, in fact, is especially badly suited to predict this because the payday lender 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 cost of collecting that information, of underwriting the loan in the traditional way that a bank would be, would be too high for the payday to offer the product. If we load up additional costs on the production of these loans, the loans will not be profitable any longer.
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DUBNER: Now, Bob, the blog post is a pop version of a meta-study, which rolls up other research on different pieces of the issue. I’m sorry that the studies that you cite in the post are not just the biased rantings of some ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-cost lunatics. And I realize that at least one of the primary studies was authored by yourself, so I guess I’m asking you to prove that you are not an ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-cost lunatic.
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Later on, the payday lenders gave Mann the data that showed how long it really 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 were predicted.
percent of expenses, according to the Kansas City Fed. This is not surprising, given that payday lenders do not look carefully at the borrower’s income, expenses, or credit history to ensure that she can repay the loan: That underwriting process, the bedrock of conventional lending, would be ruinously expensive when applied to a $ 300, two-week loan. Instead, lending to the borrower’s checking account-but if that’s empty due to other withdrawals or overdrafts, it’s empty.
The Twisted Economics of Payday lending can not be separated from its natural predatory. The industry has always insisted that its products are intended for short-term emergency use and that it does not encourage repeat borrowing-the debt trap. “It’s like the tobacco industry saying that smoking does not cause cancer,” says Sheila Bair, former president of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Study after study has found that repeating 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-service event in 2007, Daniel Feehan, then CEO of the payday lender Cash America, said, according to multiple reports (here and here), “The theory in the business is that you have got that customer , work to turn it into a repetitive customer, long-term customer, because that’s where the profitability is. ”
Now, however, the storefront-payday-lending industry is embattled. In 2006, after the outcropping 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 reinforce the industry, through either regulation or outright banners. Lenders have excelled at finding loopholes in these regulations. However, according to Pew, the number of states in which payday lenders operated 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 of borrowed is due in one lump sum-barely has grown from 2012 to 2014.
WINCY COLLINS: I advise everyone, “Do not even mess with those people. They are rip-offs “I would not go back again. I do not even like to walk across the street past it. That’s just how pissed I was, and so hurt.
Furthermore, according to DeYoung’s own research, because the payday-loan industry is extremely competitive, the market tends to drive fees down. And while payday lenders get trashed by government regulators and activists, payday customers, he says, seem to tell a different story.
Payday loans have been in the news a lot recently, but not all short-term loans carry the same risks. LendUp Loans are an alternative to traditional payday loans from a licensed lender. A typical payday loan is exactly that: You borrow money against your next paycheck. However, borrowing against your paycheck often imposes several restrictions on this type of lending:
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 would not let the market determine whether or not at that high price we still have the need to use the product.
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It starts like this: “Except for the ten to twelve million people who use them every year, just about everybody hates payday loans. Their detractors include many law professors, consumer advocates, members of the clergy, journalists, policymakers, and even the President! But is all the enmity justified? ”
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 safe 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 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 that is only one step.
Some analysts argue that financial literacy will keep people like Tambu from using payday loans. And, clearly, financial education is important. But understanding your situation does not change your viable options. Tambu, more than most payday customers, understands that these loans can be problematic. Day after day, she deals with customers who pay off one loan and immediately take out another. “I know it’s bad. I knew what a payday loan was, “she told me. “But I’m on a month-to-month lease, and it was either get evicted or take out the loans.” Although the neighborhood where she lives is dangerous, Tambu is currently settled in “the best apartment I’ve ever had . “She did not want to risk losing her home by failing to pay the rent. “If you think this is bad,” she told me
The Military Lending Act Five Years Later: The High-Cost Small Dollar Loan Market, and the Campaign against Predatory Lending, by Jean Ann Fox, Consumer Federation of America (May, 2012).
Now, we should say, that when you are an academic study of a particular industry, often the only way to get the data is from the industry itself. It’s a common practice. But, as Zinman noted in his paper, as the researcher you draw the line at letting the industry or industry advocates influence the findings. But as our producer Christopher Werth learned that it has not always been the case with payday-lending research and the Consumer Credit Research Foundation, or the CCRF.
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Some payday loan companies gather your personal information and then shop around for a lender. That means your information can go out to third parties as part of the lending process. Other companies will even sell contact information, leaving you dealing with sales calls and spam emails. LendUp protects customer information and will never sell it.
The explanation for this is not simple, and a variety of economic jargon floats around the issue. But it’s all started with this: The typical payday-consumer loan is too desperate, too unsophisticated, or too exhausted from being treated with disrespect by traditional lenders to engage in shopping. So demand is what economists call price tax. As Clarence Hodson, who published a book in 1919 about the business of small loans, put it, “It is not possible for bargain to benefit with cupidity.” In its last financial year, Advance America, one of the country’s largest payday lenders, wrote, “We believe that the main competitive factor is customer service, rental, convenience, speed, and confidentiality.” You will notice it did not mention the price.
WERTH: I was, and what he told me was that although Hilary Miller was making substantial changes to the paper, CCRF did not exercise editorial control. That is, he says, he still had complete academic freedom to accept or reject Miller’s changes. Here’s Fusaro:
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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 named Cypress Research, which is 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 will 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 the CCRF. And what they show is they really look like editorial interference.
WERTH: So, what did Fusaro do when he set up a randomzed control trial where he gave a group of borrowers a traditional high-interest-rate payday loan and then gave another group of borrowers no interest rates 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 financed by CCRF.
That makes plenty of sense in theory. Payday lending in its most unfettered form seems to be ideal for neither consumers nor lenders. As Luigi Zingales, professor at the University of Chicago, told a group of finance professionals in a speech speech last year, “The effective outcome can not be achieved without mandatory regulation.” One controversy is whether the office, in its zeal to protect consumers, is going too far. Under the plan it is now considering, lenders would have to make sure that borrowers can repay their loans and cover other living expenses without extensive defaults or reborrowing. These actions would really seem to curtail the possibility of people falling into debt traps with payday lenders. But the industry argues that the rules would be put out of business. And while a self-serving howl of pain is precisely what you would expect from any industry
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The last time Tambu and I talked, she told me about a job she had recently started, working at a veterinary hospital. “This is a career-a real job,” she told me. Tambu hopes that she will finally be able to set aside twenty-five dollars from each paycheck, and maybe start taking classes at a local college to work towards degree in counseling.
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 means really 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, is likely to help solve some big problem.
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There is no reason payday lending in its mainstream, visible form took off in the 1990s, but an important factor 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, a economist at Dartmouth, payday-loan stores nationwide outnumbered McDonald’s restaurants and Starbucks coffee shops combined.
FULMER: If you associate the cost of paying our rent to our local owners, paying our light bill and electrical fees, paying our other fees to local merchants who provide services to us, we operate on a relatively thin margin.
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 Assistant Vice President at the New York Fed. The article is entitled “Reframing the Debate About Payday Lending.”
MANN: If you did not know what to do, that’s what you’re going to do, that’s just what it’s going to do because the data at least suggests that most people do have a fairly good understanding of what’s going to happen to them.
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In a vicious cycle, the higher the permitted fees, the more stores, the lesser 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 are charged. (The old loan sharks may have been able to charge lower rates because of lower overhead, although it’s impossible to know.) Mayer thinks the explanation may have more to do with the differences in the customer base: Because alternative alternatives were sparse back then, these lenders served a more diverse and overall more creditworthy set of borrowers, so default rates were likely lower.)
CHRISTOPHER WERTH: Right. Well, it’s a non-profit watchdog, relatively new organization. Its mission is to expose corporate and political misconduct, primarily by using open-record applications, such as the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA applications, to produce evidence.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the CFPB – the federal agency that President Obama wants to tighten payday-loan rules – 75 percent of the industry’s fees come from borrowers who take over 10 loans per year.