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Whatever you want to call it – wage deflation, structural unemployment, the absence of good-paying jobs – is not that a bigger problem? And, if so, what’s to be done about that? Next time on Freakonomics Radio, we will continue this conversation by looking at a strange, controversial proposal to make sure everyone’s got enough money to get by.
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?
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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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If you take out a payday loan that is equal to your next check, you will not have to pay any bills or make it to the next paycheck. That leaves you in a cycle where you are lining up your next loan as you pay off the first. Payday loan alternatives can help you avoid that debt cycle and still get the capital you need.
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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There is no reason payday lending in its mainstream, visible form took off in the 1990s, but an important factor was deregulation. States began to roll back usury caps, and changes in federal laws helped lenders structure their loans so as to avoid the caps. By 2008, writes Jonathan Zinman, a economist at Dartmouth, payday-loan stores nationwide outnumbered McDonald’s restaurants and Starbucks coffee shops combined.
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?
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.
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.
Researchers, journalists, and policymakers routinely demonize the businesses that provide payday loans, calling them predatory or worse. Indeed, if you are not living close to the edge, it’s hard to understand why a person would pay such a high price to borrow such a small amount of money.
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).
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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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:
heavy users, whose predictions are really bad. And I think that group of people seems to fundamentally not understand their financial situation.
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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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.
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.
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Tambu and I sometimes stayed in the sun on the steps outside the building during our lunch and coffee breaks. When I told her about my research, she volunteered to tell me her own story of how she ended up both giving out loans and taking them out herself.
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. You can contact your lender for more information about its specific policies.
But if the only explanation for high rates were that lenders can, so they do, you would expect to see an industry awash in profits. It is not, especially today. Ernst & Young released a study, commissioned by the Financial Service Centers of America, to find that the ‘average profit margin before tax and interest was less than 10 percent. (For the sake of comparison, over the past five quarters, the consumer-financial-services industry has averaged a pre-profit profit rate of more than 30 percent, according to CSIMarket, a provider of financial information.) A perusal of those financial statements that are public confirms a simple fact: As payday lending exploded, the economics of the business worsened-and are today no better than middling. The Community Financial Services Association argues that at 36 percent rate cap, the one in place for members of the military, is a death knell because payday lenders can not make money at that rate, and this seems to be correct. In states that their rates are at 36% per year or lower, the payday lenders vanish. In New York, which caps payday loans at 25 percent a year, there are no stores at all.
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.
Some payday loan companies gather your personal information and then shop around for a lender. That means your information can go out to third parties as part of the lending process. Other companies will even sell contact information, leaving you dealing with sales calls and spam emails. LendUp protects customer information and will never sell it.
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.
WERTH: So far, so good. But I think we should mention two things here: one, Fusaro had a co-author on the paper. Her name is Patricia Cirillo; she’s the president of a company named Cypress Research, which is by the way, is the same survey firm that produced data for the paper you mentioned earlier, about how payday borrowers are pretty good at predicting when they will be able to pay back their loans. And the other point, two, there was a long chain of e-mails between Marc Fusaro, the academic researcher here, and the CCRF. And what they show is they really look like editorial interference.
Donald Trump allegedly told the porn actress Stormy Daniels in a hotel room in Lake Tahoe in 2006. “After that proposal, you will be able to go on [The Celebrity Apprentice] as Daniels told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes on Sunday night, she went to the bathroom, and when she came out, Trump had relocated herself to the end of the bed. It was clear, she said, what she assumed would happen next.
payday lenders work is over their collection process. The truth is you can not be made to repay more than you can afford. We can tell you how much that is and crucially we can help you prove that to the payday lender.
Consumer Notice: Payday loans are intended for short-term financial needs only, and should
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.
percent of expenses, according to the Kansas City Fed. This is not surprising, given that payday lenders do not look carefully at the borrower’s income, expenses, or credit history to ensure that she can repay the loan: That underwriting process, the bedrock of conventional lending, would be ruinously expensive when applied to a $ 300, two-week loan. Instead, lending to the borrower’s checking account-but if that’s empty due to other withdrawals or overdrafts, it’s empty.
After studying the millions of payday loans, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 67 percent went to borrowers with seven or more transactions per year, and the majority of borrowers paid more in fees than the amount of their initial loan. This is why Diane Standaert, the director of state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending, says 36 percent interest-rate cap, says, “The typical borrower experience involves long-term indebtedness-that’s core to the business model.”
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: 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.
, 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.
Customer Notice: Payday Loans are typically for two-to-four-week terms (up to six months in IL). Some borrowers, however, use Payday Loans for several months, which can be expensive. Payday Loans (also referred to as Payday Progress, Cash Progress, Deferred Deposit Transactions
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.
Last year, bike sharing took off in China, with thousands of bike-share companies quickly flooding city streets with millions of brightly colored rental bicycles. However, the rapid growth was largely outpaced immediate demand and overwhelmed Chinese cities, where infrastructure and regulations were not prepared to handle sudden flood of millions of shared bicycles. Riders would park bikes anywhere, or just abandon them, resulting in bicycles piling up and blocking already-crowded streets and pathways. As cities impounded derelict bikes by the thousands, they moved quickly to cap growth and regulate the industry. Big batteries of impounded, abandoned, and broken bicycles have become a familiar sight in many big cities. As many of the companies have been in the bigger and too early have begun to fold, their huge surplus of bicycles can be found collecting dust in large vacant lots. Bike sharing remains very popular in China, and will probably continue to grow, only at a more sustainable rate. Meanwhile, we are left with these images of speculation gone wild-the piles of debris left behind after the bubble bursts.
The CFPB does not have the authority to limit interest rates. Congress does. So what the CFPB is asking for is that payday lenders either thoroughly evaluate the borrower’s financial profile or limit the number of rollovers for a loan, and offer easy refund terms. Payday lenders say even these regulations may just be put out of business – and they may be right. The CFPB estimates that the new regulations can reduce the total volume of short-term loans, including payday loans but other types as well, by roughly 60 percent.

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