Lisa J. Servon is a professor and former dean at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School. She studies and conducts research in the areas of urban poverty and economic development. Her books include “Bootstrap Capital: Microenterprises and the American Poor” and “Bridging the Digital Divide: Technology, Community, and Public Policy.”
WERTH: So far, so good. But I think we should mention two things here: one, Fusaro had a co-author on the paper. Her name is Patricia Cirillo; she’s the president of a company named Cypress Research, which is by the way, is the same survey firm that produced data for the paper you mentioned earlier, about how payday borrowers are pretty good at predicting when they will be able to pay back their loans. And the other point, two, there was a long chain of e-mails between Marc Fusaro, the academic researcher here, and the CCRF. And what they show is they really look like editorial interference.
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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.
MANN: The data really suggests that there is a relatively small group of borrowers, in the range of 10 to 15 percent, who had been extremely
Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. Today’s episode was produced by Christopher Werth. The rest of our staff include Arwa Gunja, Jay Cowit, Merritt Jacob, Greg Rosalsky, Kasia Mychajlowycz, Alison Hockenberry and Caroline English. Thanks also to Bill Healy for his help with this episode from Chicago. If you want more Freakonomics Radio, you can also find us on Twitter and Facebook and do not forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or anywhere else you get your free, weekly podcasts.
The payday industry, and some political allies, argue that the CFPB is trying to deny credit to people who really
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.
heavy users, whose predictions are really bad. And I think that group of people seems to fundamentally not understand their financial situation.
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.
MCKAMEY: Everybody that comes in here always comes out with a smile on their face. I do not see anyone come out hollering. They take care of everyone who comes to the T. You have been satisfied, I’m satisfied, and I see other people be satisfied. I never seen a person walk out with a bad attitude or anything.
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.
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Tambu is still paying back the loan she got to fix her car last summer, visiting each of her five lenders on Wednesdays, her payday, and paying them twenty-two dollars each. When I asked Tambu whether, given her experience, she thought payday loans should be illegal in California, as they are in New York, she told me, “no, I think they should still exist. You know it’s undoable to take out five loans and be able to pay them back. But sometimes you have no choice. The reason I’m working so hard to pay these backs is that I want to be in good standing, in case I ever need another one. ”
Whatever you want to call it – wage deflation, structural unemployment, the absence of good-paying jobs – is not that a bigger problem? And, if so, what’s to be done about that? Next time on Freakonomics Radio, we will continue this conversation by looking at a strange, controversial proposal to make sure everyone’s got enough money to get by.
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Over the past few days, many have tried to disable John Bolton’s worldview, to get a sense of how he might shape the foreign policy of the Trump administration as he takes up the post of national-security adviser. His detractors have paid particular attention to his bellicose statements about North Korea, arguably the country’s most pressing security challenge, and his forceful critics of the Iran deal, which has been on the verge of unraveling for months. They’ve drawn the conclusion that Bolton has an unslakeable appetite for armed intervention that will lead the country to ruin. But although Bolton is often described as a rigid ideologist, he sees himself as a ruthless pragmatist who is more willing to use diplomatic means to advance U.S. interests. And if Bolton the pragmatist wines out, he will be well-placed to steer the Trump White House in a more coherent and constructive direction.
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DeYOUNG: We need to do more research and try to find out the best ways to regulate rather than the rules that are being pursued now that would eventually shut down the industry. I do not want to come as a advocate of payday lenders. That’s not my position. My position is I want to make sure the users of payday loans who are using them responsibly and who are made better by them do not lose access to this product.
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?
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.
Last year, bike sharing took off in China, with thousands of bike-share companies quickly flooding city streets with millions of brightly colored rental bicycles. However, the rapid growth was largely outpaced immediate demand and overwhelmed Chinese cities, where infrastructure and regulations were not prepared to handle sudden flood of millions of shared bicycles. Riders would park bikes anywhere, or just abandon them, resulting in bicycles piling up and blocking already-crowded streets and pathways. As cities impounded derelict bikes by the thousands, they moved quickly to cap growth and regulate the industry. Big batteries of impounded, abandoned, and broken bicycles have become a familiar sight in many big cities. As many of the companies have been in the bigger and too early have begun to fold, their huge surplus of bicycles can be found collecting dust in large vacant lots. Bike sharing remains very popular in China, and will probably continue to grow, only at a more sustainable rate. Meanwhile, we are left with these images of speculation gone wild-the piles of debris left behind after the bubble bursts.
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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.
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.
STANDAERT: These payday loans cost borrowers hundreds of dollars for what is marketed as a small loan. And the Center for Responsible Lending has estimated that payday loan costs over $ 3.4 billion per year from low-income consumers stuck in the payday-loan debt trap.
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).
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the CFPB – the federal agency that President Obama wants to tighten payday-loan rules – 75 percent of the industry’s fees come from borrowers who take over 10 loans per year.
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.
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“I’m a working woman again,” she told me, in the common room of the old apartment where she now lives, in California’s Inland Empire. Gordon has worked a number of odd jobs throughout his life-as a house cleaner, a home health assistant, a telemarketer, a librarian, a fundraiser-but at many times in his life, he did not have a steady job that paid in Social Security. She did not receive a pension. And she definitely was not making enough money for retirement.
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:
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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.
Diane Standaert is the director of state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending, which has offices in North Carolina, California, and Washington, D.C. The CRL calls itself a “nonprofit, non-partisan organization” with a focus on “fighting predatory lending practices.” You’ve probably figured out that the CRL is anti-payday loan. Standaert argues that payday loans are often not used how the industry markets them, as a quick solution to a short-term emergency.
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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.
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.
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