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.
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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?
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.
RONALD MANN: I have a general idea that people who are really tight for money know more where their next dollar is coming from and going than the people that are not particularly tight for money. So, I generally think that the people who borrow from payday lenders have a better idea of how their finances are going to go for the next two or three months because it’s really a crucial item for them that they worry about every day. So that’s what I set out to test.
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?
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.
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.
Under government fire, this appears, based on the business model, to be true-not only would the regulations eliminate the very loans from which the industry makes its money, but they would also introduce significant new underwriting expenses on every loan.
Some other academic research we’ve mentioned today does not recognize 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 the Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF) for providing home 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. ”
If you find some of the modern economic scenario, most people have at least one horse in every race, which makes it difficult to separate advocacy and reality. So let’s go where Freakonomics Radio often goes when we want to find someone who does not have a horse in the race: to academia. Let’s ask some academic researchers if the payday-loan industry is really as nasty as it looks.
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Fulmer’s firm, Advance America, runs about 2,400 payday loan shops, across 29 states. All in, there are roughly 20,000 payday shops in the U.S., with total loan estimated at around $ 40 billion per year. If you were back to the early 1990s, there were fewer than 500 payday-loan stores. But the industry grew as many states relaxed their usury laws – many states, but not all. Payday lending is prohibited in 14 states, including much of the north and in Washington, D.C. Another nine states allow payday loans but only with more borrower-friendly terms. And that leaves 27 states where payday lenders can charge in the neighborhood of 400 percent interest – states ranging from California to Texas to Wisconsin to Alabama, which is what drew President Obama there.
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.
raise cash. To get a payday loan, you need to have a job and a bank account. According to Pew survey data, some 12 million Americans – roughly 1 in 20 adults – take out a payday loan in a given year. They tend to be relatively young and earn less than $ 40,000; they tend to not have a four-year college degree; and while the most common borrower is a white female, the rate of borrowing is the highest among the minorities.
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.
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.”
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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.
DUBNER: Well, here’s what seems to me, at least, the puzzle, which is that repeat rollovers – which represents a relatively small number of the borrowers
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.
Perhaps a solution of sorts-something that is better, but not perfect-could come from more modest reforms to the payday-lending industry, rather than trying to transform it. There are some evidence that smart regulation can improve the business for both lenders and consumers. In 2010, Colorado revised its payday-lending industry by reducing the permissible fees, extending the minimum term of a loan to six months, and requiring that a loan be repayable over time, instead of coming due all at once. Pew reports that half of the payday stores in Colorado are closed, but now everyday payday borrowers are paying 42% less in fees and defaulting less frequently, with no reduction in access to credit. “There’s been a debate for 20 years about whether to allow payday lending or not,” says Pew’s Alex Horowitz. “Colorado shows it can be much, better.”
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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?
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
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.
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.
Payday cash loans are the best way to go if you are strapped for cash and are facing a financial emergency like a car repair or medical bill, for example. All you need is a checking account and a steady source of income. With the innovation of the internet, cash advance loans can be obtained easily, confidentially, and securely – there is no need to waste time and energy and money driving around town looking for funding sources such as payday centers; Additionally, there are no lines and no waiting.
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