Azlinah Tambu, a twenty-two-year-old single mother who lives in Oakland, California, recently found herself in a tough spot. Her car had broken down, and she needed to drop her off at work and to get to work. Tambu, an upbeat woman with glossy black hair and dazzling eyes, did not have the money for the repairs. She had no savings and credit card; she had no family or friends who could help her. So she took out five payday loans from five different payday lenders ranging from fifty to five dollars to three hundred dollars each. The fee to get the loan was fifteen dollars for each hundred dollars borrowed.
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:
Lisa J. Servon is a professor and former dean at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School. She studies and conducts research in the areas of urban poverty and economic development. Her books include “Bootstrap Capital: Microenterprises and the American Poor” and “Bridging the Digital Divide: Technology, Community, and Public Policy.”
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.
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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
That does sound sound, does not it? A typical credit card rate is around 15 percent, maybe 20 or higher if you have bad credit. But to the payday-loan industry, a proposal of 36 percent is not reasonable at all.
On the critic side right now are the Center for Responsible Lending, who promotes 36 percent cap on payday lending, which we know puts the industry out of business. The CFPB’s proposed policy is to pay payday lenders to collect more information at the point of contact that if avoided allows payday lenders to really be profitable, deliver the product. Now that’s, that’s not the only plank in the CFPB’s platform. They advocate limiting rollovers and cooling-off periods and the research does not indicate that in states where rollovers are limited, payday lenders have got around them by paying the loan off by refinancing. Just start a separate loan with a separate loan number, evading the regulation. Of course that’s a regulation that was poorly written, if the payday lenders
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DUBNER: Obviously the history of lending is long and often, at least in my reading, tied to religion. There is a prohibition against it in Deuteronomy and elsewhere in the Old Testament. It’s in the New Testament. In Shakespeare, the Merchant of Venice was not the hero. So, do you think that the general view of this kind of lending is colored by an emotional or moral argument too much at the expense of an economic and practical argument?
Whatever you want to call it – wage deflation, structural unemployment, the absence of good-paying jobs – is not that a 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 a strange, controversial proposal to make sure everyone’s got enough money to get by.
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, because they do not have the storefront overhead. But they may have difficulty managing the fraud, and they themselves are difficult to police, so they may at times evade state caps on interest rates. So far, the rates charged by many Internet lenders seem to be higher, not lower, than those charged by traditional lenders. (Elevate Credit, which says it has a sophisticated, technological-based way of underwriting loans, brags that its loans for the “new middle class” are half the cost of typical payday loans – but it is selective in its lending, and still charges about 200 percent annually.) Promising out-of-the-box ideas, in other words, are in short supply.
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Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. Today’s episode was produced by Christopher Werth. The rest of our staff include 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 do not forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or anywhere else you get your free, weekly podcasts.
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).
Indeed, even those who work in the industry recognize that these loans are imperfect solutions to the growing demand for small loans. John Weinstein, a third-generation check casher and the president of Check Center, told me that he recognizes the problems (mentioned in a series of recent Pew reports) associated with repeat borrowing. Weinstein believes that “changes in the industry are inevitable.”
MANN: And if you went to the counter and asked for a loan, they would hand you this sheet of paper and say, “If you’ll fill out this survey for us, we’ll give you $ 15 to $ 25, “I forget what one was. And then I get the surveys sent to me and I can look at them.
The problem we’ve been looking at today is pretty straightforward: there are a lot of low-income people in the U.S. who has come to rely on a financial instrument, the payday loan, which is, according to its detractors, exploitative, and according to its supporters, useful. President Obama is pushing for regulatory reform; payday advocates say the reform may kill off the industry, leaving borrowers in the lurch.
Which suggests there is a small but substantial group of people who are so financially desperate and
The law in the United States is very clear – debtors can not be charged for failing to pay a debt. Our U.S. Constitution prohibits imprisonment for debt. Our bankruptcy laws are federal laws that allow debtors to file for bankruptcy protection when they are unable to repay their debts. In addition, debt collection is a civil law matter, not a criminal matter. A creditor may pursue a collection of debt through the civil courts in the United States; However, debtors can not be prosecuted in criminal court for not paying a debt.
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.
And yet it is surprisingly difficult to condemn the business wholesale. Emergency credit can be a lifeline, after all. And while stories about the payday-lending industry’s individual victims are horrible, the research on its effect at a more macro level is limited and very ambiguous. One study shows that payday lending makes local communities more resilient; another says it increases personal bankruptcies; and so on.
The porn actress’s account of her alleged sexual encounter with the president on 60 Minutes- “I thought of it as a business deal,” she said-shares similarities with Hollywood tales of the “casting couch.”
In a high-education system that is often divided between two and four-year colleges and further segregated between elite and nonelite institutions, it’s not often that a college college is mentioned in the same breath as the Ivy League campus. Nor is a two-year college as a training ground for jobs in the so-called creative economy, which includes industries such as design, fashion, and computer gaming that typically require bachelor degrees.
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So we are left with at least two questions, I guess. Number one: How well is the one of the payday-loan research we’ve been telling you about today, pro or con? And number two: How do we have any academic research?
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.
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 certainly 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 is little evidence that a proliferation of payday lenders produces this consumer-friendly competitive effect. What’s the difference: There are more than double-paid loans in those states (Idaho, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin). by residents of some other states, according to Pew. In the state where the interest rate is capped, the rate that payday lenders charge gravitates right to the cap. “In the race to the lowest rates, it’s a race to the highest rates,” says Tom Feltner, director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America.
When California borrowers default on their loans, lenders do not have much recourse to collect on the debts. Borrowers sign an agreement when they apply for a loan; The lender can not take them to court. One of Tambu’s lenders did harassing his phone calls, a violation of federal law, but Tambu knew her rights. “I’m not stupid,” she told me. “I knew they could not take me to court.”
DUBNER: OK, so this is interesting that a watchdog group that will not reveal its funding is going after an industry to try to influence academics that’s funding. So should we assume that CFA, the watchdog, has some kind of horse in the payday race? Do we just not know?
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After studying the millions of payday loans, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 67 percent went to borrowers with seven or more transactions per year, and the majority of borrowers paid more in fees than the amount of their initial loan. This is why Diane Standaert, the director of state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending, says 36 percent interest-rate cap, says, “The typical borrower experience involves long-term indebtedness-that’s core to the business model.”
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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 the Prohibition.
DeYOUNG: Right now, there are very little information about rollovers, the reasons for rollovers, and the effects of rollovers. And without academic research, the rule is going to be based on who shouts the loudest. And that’s a 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 has 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 does not flip the borrower into another loan, does not encourage the borrower to find another payday lender. At that point the lender’s main is then switched into a different product, a long term loan where he or she pays it a bit bit every month.
DUBNER: Well, Christopher, that defense sounds, at least to me, like pretty weak sauce. I mean, the university writing center does not have as much vested interest in the outcome of my writing as an industry group does for an academic paper about that industry, right?
The second benefit of working with LendUp is that we strive to make all the details of our loans clear and understandable. You will not have to pay your money when you borrow from us. We are licensed in every state we operate, and we work hard to protect you and your information. We will not sell or provide your third party information unless you specifically authorize us to do so.
FULMER: We have to wait for the final proposal rules to come out. But where they appear to go is down a path that would simply eliminate a product instead of reforming the industry or better regulating the industry.
Does a researcher who’s out to make a splash with some sexy finding necessarily work with more bias than a researcher who’s working out of pure intellectual curiosity? I do not think that’s necessarily so. Like life itself, academic research is a case-by-case scenario.
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