said one of the key reasons he chose Rhode Island was its strong network of higher education institutions: Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Community College of Rhode Island.
First, Mann wanted to gauge borrowers’ expectations – how long they thought it would take them to pay back a payday loan. So he created a survey that was given out to borrowers in a few dozen payday loan shops across five states.
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.
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The bigger problem for payday lenders is the overhead. Alex Horowitz, a research manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts, says that two-thirds of the fee payday lenders collect are spent just keeping the lights on. The average storefront serves only 500 customers a year, and employee turnover is ridiculously high. For example, QC Holdings, a public traded nationwide lender, reported that it had to replace approximately 65 percent of its branch-level employees in 2014. “The profits are not extraordinary,” Horowitz says. “What is extraordinary is the inefficiency.”
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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As it happens, Tambu and I met while we were working at the Check Center, check-in casher and payday lender in a low-income neighborhood in downtown Oakland. As a part of a research project designed to better understand why an increasing number of Americans use payday lenders and check cashers, I spent two weeks in October working as a teller and collections agent, calling delinquent borrowers at Check Center. Before that, I spent four months as a teller at a casher in the South Bronx, and one month staffing the Predatory Loan Help Hotline at the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
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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.
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?
Ultimately, Tambu worked out payment plans with her lenders that allowed her to pay them back in installments. In order to make the payments, she took a second job job in the middle of the night at a two-door bar from Check Center. She told me that she paid off “a big chunk” of her loans but then had to quit her job; The hours were too tough on her, and she did not see her enough daughter. Still, she told me, “I might go back. I really need the money. ”
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.
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WERTH: So, what did Fusaro do when he set up a randomzed control trial where he gave a group of borrowers a traditional high-interest-rate payday loan and then gave another group of borrowers no interest rates on their loans and then he compared the Two and he found out that both groups were just as likely to roll over their loans again. And we should say, again, the research was financed by CCRF.
On the other hand, this leaves about 40 percent of borrowers who were not good at predicting when they would pay the loan off. And Mann found a correlation between bad predictions and past payday loans.
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.
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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.
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.
Bob DeYoung makes a very complicated argument about the use of payday loans. Instead of “trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt,” as President Obama and other critics put it, DeYoung argues that payday loans can help people avoid a cycle of debt – like the late payment of your company company charges for an unpaid bill; like the overdraft fees or bounced-check your bank fees may charge you.
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?
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.”
Which suggests there is a small but substantial group of people who are so financially desperate and
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percent of expenses, according to the Kansas City Fed. This is not surprising, given that payday lenders do not look carefully at the borrower’s income, expenses, or credit history to ensure that she can repay the loan: That underwriting process, the bedrock of conventional lending, would be ruinously expensive when applied to a $ 300, two-week loan. Instead, lending to the borrower’s checking account-but if that’s empty due to other withdrawals or overdrafts, it’s empty.
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
It may seem inconceivable that a company could not make money collecting interest at a 36 percent annual clip. One reason it’s true is that default rates are high. A study in 2007 by two economists, Mark Flannery and Katherine Samolyk, found that defaults account for more than 20 percent of operating expenses at payday-loan stores. By comparison, loan losses in 2007 at small U.S. commercial banks accounted for only 3
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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.
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.
FULMER: It would take the $ 15 and it would make that fee $ 1.38 per $ 100 borrowed. That’s less than 7.5 cents per day. The New York Times can not sell a newspaper for 7.5 cents a day. And somehow we are expected to be unsecured, relative, $ 100 loans for a two-week period for 7.5 cents per day. It just does not make economical sense.
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