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?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does not have the power to ban payday lending outright, or to set a nationwide interest-rate cap, but it can act to prevent deemed “unfair, abusive, or deceptive” practices. In March 2015, it announced that it was considered a set of rules for most small-dollar loans (up to $ 500) that consumers are required to repay within 45 days. The goal is to put an end to payday-lending debt traps.
DEYOUNG: Oh, I think that our history of usury laws is a direct result of our Judeo-Christian background. And even Islamic banking, which follows in the same tradition. But clearly interest on lent or borrowed money has, has been looked at non-objectively, let’s put it that way. So the shocking APR numbers if we apply them to rent a hotel or rent a car or lend your father’s gold watch or your mother’s silverware to the pawnbroker for a month, the APRs come out similar. So the shock from these numbers is, we recognize the shock here because we are used to calculate interest rates on loans but not interest rates on anything else. And it’s human nature to want to hear bad news and it’s, you know, the media understands this and so they report bad news more often than good news. We do not hear this. It’s like the houses that do not burn down and the stores that do not get robbed.
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.
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.
Consumer advocates argue that lenders take advantage of situations like this, knowing full well that a significant number of borrowers will be unable to repay payday loans when they come due. Because the borrowers roll over their old loan, or pay back the first loan and immediately take out another, the advocates argue, they get trapped in a cycle of debt, repaying much more than they borrowed. Those who own and manage payday-loan shops stand by the products they sell, maintaining that they are lenders of the last resort for borrowers like Tambu, who have no other options.
Back when he was a private businessman, Trump learned how to use law as a weapon. The lesson he took from that is that if your pockets are deep enough – and your conscience dull enough – it does not matter that you are wrong. The other party will be broken before you will lose.
In a high-education system that is often divided between two and four-year colleges and further segregated between elite and nonelite institutions, it’s not often that a college college is mentioned in the same breath as the Ivy League campus. Nor is a two-year college as a training ground for jobs in the so-called creative economy, which includes industries such as design, fashion, and computer gaming that typically require bachelor degrees.
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DEYOUNG: This is why price caps are a bad idea. Because if the solution was implemented as I suggest and, in fact, payday lenders lost some of their most profitable customers – because now we’re not getting that fee the 6th and 7th time from them – then the price would have to go up. And we would not let the market determine whether or not at that high price we still have the need to use the product.
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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One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics-really one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history-is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an evangelist himself himself, ever received.
Azlinah Tambu, a twenty-two-year-old single mother who lives in Oakland, California, recently found herself in a tough spot. Her car had broken down, and she needed to drop her off at work and to get to work. Tambu, an upbeat woman with glossy black hair and dazzling eyes, did not have the money for the repairs. She had no savings and credit card; she had no family or friends who could help her. So she took out five payday loans from five different payday lenders ranging from fifty to five dollars to three hundred dollars each. The fee to get the loan was fifteen dollars for each hundred dollars borrowed.
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High rates often go hand in hand with short-term loans, and payday loans often come with some of the highest. As a transparent company, LendUp has no hidden fees. The total cost of the loan is shown upfront, so there are no surprise payments due to the end of the loan or when you pay off the balance.
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.
Furthermore, according to DeYoung’s own research, because the payday-loan industry is extremely competitive, the market tends to drive fees down. And while payday lenders get trashed by government regulators and activists, payday customers, he says, seem to tell a different story.
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.
There is a long and often twisted history of industries co-opting scientists and other academic researchers to produce findings that make their industries look safe or more reliable or otherwise better than they really are. Whenever we talk about academic research on this show – which is pretty much every week – we try to show the provenance of that research and establish how legitimate it is. The best first step in figuring that out is to ask what kind of incentives are at play. But that is only one step.
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. ”
There’s one more thing I want to add to today’s discussion. The payday-loan industry is, in a lot of ways, a simple target. But the more I think about it, the more it looks like a symptom of a bigger problem, which is this: remember, to get a payday loan, you need to have a job and a bank account. So what does it say about an economy in which millions of working people make so little money that they can not pay their bills, that they can not absorb one hit like a ticket for smoking in public?
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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
DEYOUNG: Well, I do not know what the president would buy. You know, we have a problem in society right now, it’s getting worse and worse, we go to loggerheads and we’re very bad at finding solutions that satisfy both sides, and I think this is a solution that does satisfy both sides, gold could at least satisfy both sides. It keeps the industry running for folks who value the product. On the other hand it identifies folks using it incorrectly and allows them to get out without you knowing being more trapped.
Bob DeYoung makes a very complicated argument about the use of payday loans. Instead of “trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt,” as President Obama and other critics put it, DeYoung argues that payday loans can help people avoid a cycle of debt – like the late payment of your company company charges for an unpaid bill; like the overdraft fees or bounced-check your bank fees may charge you.
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: 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.
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. ”
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.
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.
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