A Review of the Department of Defense’s Report on Predatory Lending Practices Directed at Members of the Armed Forces and Their Dependents, hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing. & Urban Affairs, (September, 2006).
That makes plenty of sense in theory. Payday lending in its most unfettered form seems to be ideal for neither consumers nor lenders. As Luigi Zingales, professor at the University of Chicago, told a group of finance professionals in a speech speech last year, “The effective outcome can not be achieved without mandatory regulation.” One controversy is whether the office, in its zeal to protect consumers, is going too far. Under the plan it is now considering, lenders would have to make sure that borrowers can repay their loans and cover other living expenses without extensive defaults or reborrowing. These actions would really seem to curtail the possibility of people falling into debt traps with payday lenders. But the industry argues that the rules would be put out of business. And while a self-serving howl of pain is precisely what you would expect from any industry
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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.
In a typical handgun injury, which I diagnose almost daily, leaf bullet in laceration through an organ such as the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, gray bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.
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.
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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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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.
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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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ERVIN BANKS: I do not see anything wrong with them. I had some back bills I had to pay off. So it did not take me too long to pay it back – about three months, something like that. They are beautiful people.
“I’m a working woman again,” she told me, in the common room of the old apartment where she now lives, in California’s Inland Empire. Gordon has worked a number of odd jobs throughout his life-as a house cleaner, a home health assistant, a telemarketer, a librarian, a fundraiser-but at many times in his life, he did not have a steady job that paid in Social Security. She did not receive a pension. And she definitely was not making enough money for retirement.
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.
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.”
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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.
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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.
Some other academic research we’ve mentioned today does not recognize the role of CCRF in providing industry data – like Jonathan Zinman’s paper which showed that people suffered from the disappearance of payday-loan shops in Oregon. Here’s what Zinman writes in an author’s note: “Thanks to the Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF) for providing home survey data. CCRF is a non-profit organization, funded by payday lenders, with the mission of funding objective research. CCRF did not exercise any editorial control over this paper. ”
Demand for small-dollar loans may be rising partly because of the growing availability of payday loans. But a more significant factor seems to be that an increasing number of people are unable to make ends meet. Real wages have declined significantly since 1972, and more than a quarter of people in the U.S. have no emergency savings whatever. The demand for payday loans remains because the wages of these Americans are not sufficient to pay for basic needs, much less put something aside. Meanwhile, mainstream financial services have all but left low-and-moderate-income groups. And the incentives that enable higher-income earners to save and invest are nonexistent for those with lower incomes.
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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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).
Later on, the payday lenders gave Mann the data that showed how long it really took those exact customers to pay off their loans. About 60 percent of them paid off the loan within 14 days of the date they were predicted.
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DUBNER: Well, here’s what seems to me, at least, the puzzle, which is that repeat rollovers – which represents a relatively small number of the borrowers
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Many Americans still could not secure loans at that rate; their risk of default was deemed too great. Some of them eventually turned to the mob, which grew strong during the Prohibition.
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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.
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