Donald Trump allegedly told the porn actress Stormy Daniels in a hotel room in Lake Tahoe in 2006. “After that proposal, you will be able to go on [The Celebrity Apprentice] as Daniels told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes on Sunday night, she went to the bathroom, and when she came out, Trump had relocated herself to the end of the bed. It was clear, she said, what she assumed would happen next.
Tambu and I sometimes stayed in the sun on the steps outside the building during our lunch and coffee breaks. When I told her about my research, she volunteered to tell me her own story of how she ended up both giving out loans and taking them out herself.
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.
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.
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).
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Maybe that’s about as good as it gets on the fringe. Outrage is easy, and outrage is warranted-but maybe payday lenders should not be its main target. The problem is not just that people who desperately need a $ 350 loan can not get it at a affordable rate, but that a growing number of people need that loan in the first place.
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.
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.”
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).
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.
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WERTH: He was communicating with CCRF’s chairman, a lawyer named Hilary Miller. He is the president of the Payday Loan Bar Association. And he’s testified before Congress on behalf of payday lenders. And as you can see in the e-mails between him and Fusaro, again the professor here, Miller was not only reading drafts of the paper but he was making all kinds of suggestions about the paper’s structure, its tone, its content. And finally what you see is Miller writing whole paragraphs that go pretty much verbatim straight into the finished paper.
This is exactly the approach by which Donald Trump inadvertently made millions for Michael Wolff. Having so spectacularly backfired the first time, why do it again? The short answer is: Team Trump knows nothing else.
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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.”
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?
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.
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
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DEYOUNG: That’s a very standard disclaimer. The Federal Reserve System is a unique alternative to regulators across the world. They see the value in having their researchers exercise science and academic freedom because they know that inquiry is a good thing.
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.
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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