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.
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?
As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history just read “gun wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the United States for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunballs, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.
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Does a researcher who’s out to make a splash with some sexy finding necessarily work with more bias than a researcher who’s working out of pure intellectual curiosity? I do not think that’s necessarily so. Like life itself, academic research is a case-by-case scenario.
WERTH: It’s hard to say. Actually, we just do not know. But whatever their incentive might be, their FOIA applications have produced what looks like some pretty damning e-mails between CCRF – which, again, receives funding from payday lenders – and academic researchers who have written about payday lending.
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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.
Poor credit or limited credit history can make it difficult to find financing from traditional sources. You may not be able to get a credit card or buy a car without a credit score that meets minimum requirements. That can make it tough to handle emergencies.
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?
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: 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.
you, your bank controls when you have access to it.
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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.
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.”
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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