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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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?
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.
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Race Matters: The Concentration of Payday Lenders in North Carolina, by Uriah King, Wei Li, Delvin Davis and Keith Ernst, The Center for Responsible Lending (March, 2005).
WERTH: It’s hard to say. Actually, we just do not know. But whatever their incentive might be, their FOIA applications have produced what looks like some pretty damning e-mails between CCRF – which, again, receives funding from payday lenders – and academic researchers who have written about payday lending.
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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.
Fulmer says that payday-loan interest rates are not almost as predatory as they seem, for two reasons. First: When you hear “400 percent on an annualized basis,” you might think that people are borrowing the money for a year. But these loans are designed to be held for just a few weeks, unless, of course, they get rolled over a bunch of times. And, reason number two: because payday loans are so small – the average loan is about $ 375 – the fees need to be relatively high to make it worthwhile for the lender. For every $ 100 borrowed, Fulmer says, the lender gets about $ 15 in fees. So, capping the rate at an annualized 36 percent just would not work.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does not have the power to ban payday lending outright, or to set a nationwide interest-rate cap, but it can act to prevent deemed “unfair, abusive, or deceptive” practices. In March 2015, it announced that it was considered a set of rules for most small-dollar loans (up to $ 500) that consumers are required to repay within 45 days. The goal is to put an end to payday-lending debt traps.
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:
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.
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? ”
DUBNER: Wowzer. That does sound pretty damning – that the head of a research group funded by payday lenders is essentially ghostwriting parts of an academic paper that happens to reach pro-payday lending conclusions. Were you able to speak with Marc Fusaro, the author of the paper?
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.”
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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CORONA, Calif.-Roberta Gordon never thought she’d still be alive at age 76. She definitely did not think she’d still be working. But every Saturday, she goes down to the local grocery store and hands out samples, earning $ 50 a day, because she needs the money.
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.
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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