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).
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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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. ”
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.
Payday loans have been in the news a lot recently, but not all short-term loans carry the same risks. LendUp Loans are an alternative to traditional payday loans from a licensed lender. A typical payday loan is exactly that: You borrow money against your next paycheck. However, borrowing against your paycheck often imposes several restrictions on this type of lending:
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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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.
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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.
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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.
In a vicious cycle, the higher the permitted fees, the more stores, the lesser customers each store serves, so the higher the fees need to be. Competition, in other words, does reduce profits to lenders, as expected – but it seems to carry no benefit to consumers, at least as measured by the rates they are charged. (The old loan sharks may have been able to charge lower rates because of lower overhead, although it’s impossible to know.) Mayer thinks the explanation may have more to do with the differences in the customer base: Because alternative alternatives were sparse back then, these lenders served a more diverse and overall more creditworthy set of borrowers, so default rates were likely lower.)
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.
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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DUBNER: Hey Christopher. So, as I understand it, much of what you’ve learned about CCRF’s involvement in the payday research comes from a watchdog group called the Campaign for Accountability, or CFA? So, first off, tell us a bit more about them, and what their incentives may be.
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and are a problem for those borrowers – but it sounds like though those repeat rollovers are the source of a lot of the lender’s profits. So, if you were to eliminate the big problem from the consumer’s side, would not that remove the profit from the lender’s side, maybe kill the industry?
The Twisted Economics of Payday lending can not be separated from its natural predatory. The industry has always insisted that its products are intended for short-term emergency use and that it does not encourage repeat borrowing-the debt trap. “It’s like the tobacco industry saying that smoking does not cause cancer,” says Sheila Bair, former president of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Study after study has found that repeating borrowing accounts for a large share of the industry’s revenues. Flannery and Samolyk found that “high per-customer loan volume” helps payday lenders cover their overhead and offset defaults. At a financial-service event in 2007, Daniel Feehan, then CEO of the payday lender Cash America, said, according to multiple reports (here and here), “The theory in the business is that you have got that customer , work to turn it into a repetitive customer, long-term customer, because that’s where the profitability is. ”
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can evade it that easily.
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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
, gesturing at the area surrounding Check Center, where the drug dealers hang out in front of the store and bullet holes riddled the storefront, “you should see where I live. It makes this place look like Beverly Hills. ”
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