To be sure, some payday lenders engage in abusive practices. During the month I staffed the Predatory Loan Help Hotline operated by the Virginia Poverty Law Center, I heard a lot of stories from people who had been harassed and threatened with lawsuits by businesses that routinely flute existing regulation.
The payday industry, and some political allies, argue that the CFPB is trying to deny credit to people who really
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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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.”
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There’s one more thing I want to add to today’s discussion. The payday-loan industry is, in a lot of ways, a simple target. But the more I think about it, the more it looks like a symptom of a bigger problem, which is this: remember, to get a payday loan, you need to have a job and a bank account. So what does it say about an economy in which millions of working people make so little money that they can not pay their bills, that they can not absorb one hit like a ticket for smoking in public?
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.”
DeYOUNG: Borrowing money is like renting money. You have to use it for a few weeks. You could rent a car for two weeks, right? You get to use that car. Well, if you calculate the annual percentage rate on that car rental – that means that you divide the amount you pay on that car by the value of that automobile – you get similarly high rates. So this is not about interest. This is about short-term use of a product that’s been lent to you. This is just arithmetic.
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MARC FUSARO: The Consumer Credit Research Foundation and I had an interest in the paper being as clear as possible. And if someone, including Hilary Miller, would take a paragraph that I had written and re-wrote it in a way that made what I was trying to say more clearly, I
DeYoung also argues that most payday borrowers know exactly what they’re getting into when they sign up; that they’re not unwitting and desperate people who are being preyed on. He points to a key piece of research by Ronald Mann; That’s another co-author on the New York Fed blog post.
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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.
Consumer Notice: Payday loans are intended for short-term financial needs only, and should
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.
But when I staffed the window at Check Center, I was instructed to urge customers to take out the smallest possible loans that would serve their needs. And before I worked the phones as an agent collections, I was required to read the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which limits what lenders can say and do in the process of trying to get borrowers to repay their debts.
DeYOUNG: Well, in a short sentence that’s very scientific I would start by saying, “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The question comes down to how we identify the water here and how do we identify the baby here. One way is to collect a lot of information, as the CFPB suggests, about the creditworthiness of the borrower. But that brings up production cost of payday loans and will probably put the industry out of business. But I think we can all agree that once someone pays a fee in an aggregate amount equal to the amount that was originally borrowed, that’s pretty clear that there’s a problem there.
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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.
Worse yet, she says, borrowers have almost no choice but to roll over their loans again and again, which jacks up the fees. In fact, rollovers, Standaert says, are an important part of the industry’s business model.
Cash advances in Texas are made by Integrity Funding Texas Limited Partnership or NCP Finance Limited Partnership. Credit approval is subject to the applicable lender’s credit standards. Actual loan terms (including maximum advance amount) may vary by applicant. Additional fees may apply if not repaid as agreed. Each lender requires certain supporting documentation with each new application. Complete disclosures of APR, fees, and payment terms are provided with each advance and are available from the lenders. For cash advances in Texas, the applicant must retain Check ‘n Go as a credit services organization.
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.
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.
ERVIN BANKS: I do not see anything wrong with them. I had some back bills I had to pay off. So it did not take me too long to pay it back – about three months, something like that. They are beautiful people.
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?
It may not even surprise you to learn that the Center for Responsible Lending – the non-profit that’s fighting predatory lending – that it was founded by a self-help Credit Union, which would likely stand to benefit from the elimination of payday loans. And that among the Center’s many funders are banks and other mainstream financial institutions.
DIANE STANDAERT: From the data we’ve seen, payday loans are disproportionately concentrated in African-American and Latino communities, and that African-American and Latino borrowers are disproportionately represented among the borrowing population.
But if the only explanation for high rates were that lenders can, so they do, you would expect to see an industry awash in profits. It is not, especially today. Ernst & Young released a study, commissioned by the Financial Service Centers of America, to find that the ‘average profit margin before tax and interest was less than 10 percent. (For the sake of comparison, over the past five quarters, the consumer-financial-services industry has averaged a pre-profit profit rate of more than 30 percent, according to CSIMarket, a provider of financial information.) A perusal of those financial statements that are public confirms a simple fact: As payday lending exploded, the economics of the business worsened-and are today no better than middling. The Community Financial Services Association argues that at 36 percent rate cap, the one in place for members of the military, is a death knell because payday lenders can not make money at that rate, and this seems to be correct. In states that their rates are at 36% per year or lower, the payday lenders vanish. In New York, which caps payday loans at 25 percent a year, there are no stores at all.
Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
DUBNER: Let’s say you have a one-on-one audience with President Obama. We know that the President understands economics pretty well or, I would argue that at least. What’s your pitch to the President for how this industry should be treated and not eliminated?
you, your bank controls when you have access to it.
Fringe Financial Services is the time applied to payday and its close cousins, such as installment lending and auto-title lending-services that provide quick cash to credit-strapped borrowers. It’s euphemism, sure, but that seems to aptly convey
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Ally Hockenberry, Arwa Gunja, Barack Obama, Bill Healy, Bob DeYoung, Caroline English, Christopher Werth, Diane Standaert, Donald Morgan, Elizabeth Dole, Greg Rosalsky, Hilary Miller, Jamie Fulmer, Jay Cowit, Jonathan Zinman, Kasia Mychajlowycz, Marc Fusaro, Merritt Jacob, Patricia Cirillo, Pew Charitable Trusts, President Obama, Ronald Mann, Scott Carrell, Sebastian McKamey

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