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.
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.
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.”
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DUBNER: Now, Bob, the blog post is a pop version of a meta-study, which rolls up other research on different pieces of the issue. I’m sorry that the studies that you cite in the post are not just the biased rantings of some ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-cost lunatics. And I realize that at least one of the primary studies was authored by yourself, so I guess I’m asking you to prove that you are not an ultra-right-wing pro-market-at-all-cost lunatic.
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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It starts like this: “Except for the ten to twelve million people who use them every year, just about everybody hates payday loans. Their detractors include many law professors, consumer advocates, members of the clergy, journalists, policymakers, and even the President! But is all the enmity justified? ”
heavy users, whose predictions are really bad. And I think that group of people seems to fundamentally not understand their financial situation.
And yet it is surprisingly difficult to condemn the business wholesale. Emergency credit can be a lifeline, after all. And while stories about the payday-lending industry’s individual victims are horrible, the research on its effect at a more macro level is limited and very ambiguous. One study shows that payday lending makes local communities more resilient; another says it increases personal bankruptcies; and so on.
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On the critic side right now are the Center for Responsible Lending, who promotes 36 percent cap on payday lending, which we know puts the industry out of business. The CFPB’s proposed policy is to pay payday lenders to collect more information at the point of contact that if avoided allows payday lenders to really be profitable, deliver the product. Now that’s, that’s not the only plank in the CFPB’s platform. They advocate limiting rollovers and cooling-off periods and the research does not indicate that in states where rollovers are limited, payday lenders have got around them by paying the loan off by refinancing. Just start a separate loan with a separate loan number, evading the regulation. Of course that’s a regulation that was poorly written, if the payday lenders
USA Today tallied the heavy-handed Trump litigation strategy back in June 2016. Over three decades, Trump fought 3,500 lawsuits-and faced 200 mechanic’s-mostly arising issues from disputes over unpaid bills. His strategy was to contest everything, and never quit: “The Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether. ”
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.”
DIANE STANDAERT: From the data we’ve seen, payday loans are disproportionately concentrated in African-American and Latino communities, and that African-American and Latino borrowers are disproportionately represented among the borrowing population.
When California borrowers default on their loans, lenders do not have much recourse to collect on the debts. Borrowers sign an agreement when they apply for a loan; The lender can not take them to court. One of Tambu’s lenders did harassing his phone calls, a violation of federal law, but Tambu knew her rights. “I’m not stupid,” she told me. “I knew they could not take me to court.”
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Ally Hockenberry, Arwa Gunja, Barack Obama, Bill Healy, Bob DeYoung, Caroline English, Christopher Werth, Diane Standaert, Donald Morgan, Elizabeth Dole, Greg Rosalsky, Hilary Miller, Jamie Fulmer, Jay Cowit, Jonathan Zinman, Kasia Mychajlowycz, Marc Fusaro, Merritt Jacob, Patricia Cirillo, Pew Charitable Trusts, President Obama, Ronald Mann, Scott Carrell, Sebastian McKamey
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.”
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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. ”
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.
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.”
DeYoung also argues that most payday borrowers know exactly what they’re getting into when they sign up; that they’re not unwitting and desperate people who are being preyed on. He points to a key piece of research by Ronald Mann; That’s another co-author on the New York Fed blog post.
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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Race Matters: The Concentration of Payday Lenders in North Carolina, by Uriah King, Wei Li, Delvin Davis and Keith Ernst, The Center for Responsible Lending (March, 2005).
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. ”
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.
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.
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But when I staffed the window at Check Center, I was instructed to urge customers to take out the smallest possible loans that would serve their needs. And before I worked the phones as an agent collections, I was required to read the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which limits what lenders can say and do in the process of trying to get borrowers to repay their debts.
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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.
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Contact your state’s regulator or attorney general office for more information. You may also contact legal attorney or private attorney assistance for assistance. You can submit a complaint about payday loans with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-2372.
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: If we take an objective look at the folks who use payday lending, what we find is that most users of the product are very satisfied with the product. Survey results show that almost 90 percent of the users of the product say that they are either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with the product afterwards.
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