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.)
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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To date, the debates about payday loans have been focused solely on the supply side of the issue-the payday lending-and not on the demand side-the borrowers. Lately, however, the body of research in the latter has been growing. A recent report by the Center for Financial Services Innovation highlights several categories of small-dollar credit borrowers. Tambu is not representative of the entire payday market, but according to the center’s research, borrowers seeking loans because of an unexpected expense represent thirty-two per cent of the over-all market. Policy recommendations, however, are focused on the regulation of the industry, rather than on the conditions that lead people to seek out small, expensive loans in the first place.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
DeYOUNG: They do not overdraft the checking account and take out the payday loan because they’ve done the calculus. That overdrafting on four or five checks at their bank is going to cost them more money than taking out the payday loan.
Some of the lenders in our network participate in what is known as automatic loan renewal. Simply put, if your loan is over a specific amount of time past, your lender will rollover your loan. This can be offered to you in addition to options like repaying your loan in full at a later date or repaying your debt in installments over time. The minimum term for an automatic renewal is 15 days and you will be required to pay renewal fees and additional interest charges.
DEYOUNG: Studies that have looked at this have found that once you control for the demographics and income levels in these areas and these communities, the racial characteristics no longer drive the location decisions. As you can expect, business people do not care what color their customers are, as long as their money’s green.
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.
Let’s talk about how a day pay loan works. An individual who needs immediate cash due to a personal emergency can obtain a “payday loan” from any of the many payday loans companies across Texas. The borrower agrees to pay an exorbitant interest rate – often over 500 percent-for the loan. The borrower then gives the payday lender a post-dated check which is dated the same day as his
FULMER: We have to wait for the final proposal rules to come out. But where they appear to go is down a path that would simply eliminate a product instead of reforming the industry or better regulating the industry.
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.”
Fringe Financial Services is the time applied to payday and its close cousins, such as installment lending and auto-title lending-services that provide quick cash to credit-strapped borrowers. It’s euphemism, sure, but that seems to aptly convey
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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.
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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WERTH: The best example concerns a economist named Marc Fusaro at Arkansas Tech University. So, in 2011, he released a paper called “Do Payday Loans Trap Consumers in a Cycle of Debt?” And his answer was, basically, no, they do not.
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
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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.
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.
MARC FUSARO: The Consumer Credit Research Foundation and I had an interest in the paper being as clear as possible. And if someone, including Hilary Miller, would take a paragraph that I had written and re-wrote it in a way that made what I was trying to say more clearly, I
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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.
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.
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.”
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, because they do not have the storefront overhead. But they may have difficulty managing the fraud, and they themselves are difficult to police, so they may at times evade state caps on interest rates. So far, the rates charged by many Internet lenders seem to be higher, not lower, than those charged by traditional lenders. (Elevate Credit, which says it has a sophisticated, technological-based way of underwriting loans, brags that its loans for the “new middle class” are half the cost of typical payday loans – but it is selective in its lending, and still charges about 200 percent annually.) Promising out-of-the-box ideas, in other words, are in short supply.
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MANN: And if you went to the counter and asked for a loan, they would hand you this sheet of paper and say, “If you’ll fill out this survey for us, we’ll give you $ 15 to $ 25, “I forget what one was. And then I get the surveys sent to me and I can look at them.
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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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.
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