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WERTH: He was communicating with CCRF’s chairman, a lawyer named Hilary Miller. He is the president of the Payday Loan Bar Association. And he’s testified before Congress on behalf of payday lenders. And as you can see in the e-mails between him and Fusaro, again the professor here, Miller was not only reading drafts of the paper but he was making all kinds of suggestions about the paper’s structure, its tone, its content. And finally what you see is Miller writing whole paragraphs that go pretty much verbatim straight into the finished paper.
FULMER: It would take the $ 15 and it would make that fee $ 1.38 per $ 100 borrowed. That’s less than 7.5 cents per day. The New York Times can not sell a newspaper for 7.5 cents a day. And somehow we are expected to be unsecured, relative, $ 100 loans for a two-week period for 7.5 cents per day. It just does not make economical sense.
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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.
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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.
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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.
about where the data came from and who paid for it – yes, I would have disclosed that. I do not think it’s one way or the other in terms of what the research found and what the paper says.
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.”
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.
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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.
The payday industry, and some political allies, argue that the CFPB is trying to deny credit to people who really
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.
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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.
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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There are plenty of takeaways from Daniels’s 60 Minutes interview. There’s the fact that Daniels said someone threatened her safety in front of her daughter in a parking lot in Las Vegas in 2011, telling her to “Leave Trump alone-forget the story.” There’s Cooper’s second focus on campaign-finance law, and how Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen may have broken it with the $ 130,000 payment Daniels says Cohen gave him. There’s Daniels’s firm repudiation of anyone who suggests that she’s a victim in this situation.
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.
Now, however, the storefront-payday-lending industry is embattled. In 2006, after the outcropping of payday lenders near military bases, Congress passed a law capping at 36 percent the annualized rate that lenders could charge members of the military. In response to pressure from consumer advocates, many states have begun trying to reinforce the industry, through either regulation or outright banners. Lenders have excelled at finding loopholes in these regulations. However, according to Pew, the number of states in which payday lenders operated has fallen from a peak of 44 in 2004 to 36 this year. Nationwide, according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, “single-payment credit” -so named because the amount of borrowed is due in one lump sum-barely has grown from 2012 to 2014.
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.
popular throughout the United States, including in the state of Texas. For a variety of reasons, the rates at which borrowers default on these loans are extremely high. If you have defaulted on a payday loan or you are concerned that you will go to jail for not paying the loan. This is not true. You will not go to jail if you do not pay a “payday” loan.
MANN: The data really suggests that there is a relatively small group of borrowers, in the range of 10 to 15 percent, who had been extremely
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? ”
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.
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.
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