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Indeed, even those who work in the industry recognize that these loans are imperfect solutions to the growing demand for small loans. John Weinstein, a third-generation check casher and the president of Check Center, told me that he recognizes the problems (mentioned in a series of recent Pew reports) associated with repeat borrowing. Weinstein believes that “changes in the industry are inevitable.”
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.
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.
“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.
The Military Lending Act Five Years Later: The High-Cost Small Dollar Loan Market, and the Campaign against Predatory Lending, by Jean Ann Fox, Consumer Federation of America (May, 2012).
The porn actress’s account of her alleged sexual encounter with the president on 60 Minutes- “I thought of it as a business deal,” she said-shares similarities with Hollywood tales of the “casting couch.”
DUBNER: OK, so this is interesting that a watchdog group that will not reveal its funding is going after an industry to try to influence academics that’s funding. So should we assume that CFA, the watchdog, has some kind of horse in the payday race? Do we just not know?
DeYoung, along with three co-authors, recently published an article about payday loans on Liberty Street Economics. That’s a blog run by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Another co-author, Donald Morgan, is Assistant Vice President at the New York Fed. The article is entitled “Reframing the Debate About Payday Lending.”
Fulmer’s firm, Advance America, runs about 2,400 payday loan shops, across 29 states. All in, there are roughly 20,000 payday shops in the U.S., with total loan estimated at around $ 40 billion per year. If you were back to the early 1990s, there were fewer than 500 payday-loan stores. But the industry grew as many states relaxed their usury laws – many states, but not all. Payday lending is prohibited in 14 states, including much of the north and in Washington, D.C. Another nine states allow payday loans but only with more borrower-friendly terms. And that leaves 27 states where payday lenders can charge in the neighborhood of 400 percent interest – states ranging from California to Texas to Wisconsin to Alabama, which is what drew President Obama there.
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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.
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. ”
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.
First, Mann wanted to gauge borrowers’ expectations – how long they thought it would take them to pay back a payday loan. So he created a survey that was given out to borrowers in a few dozen payday loan shops across five states.
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.
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.
Some analysts argue that financial literacy will keep people like Tambu from using payday loans. And, clearly, financial education is important. But understanding your situation does not change your viable options. Tambu, more than most payday customers, understands that these loans can be problematic. Day after day, she deals with customers who pay off one loan and immediately take out another. “I know it’s bad. I knew what a payday loan was, “she told me. “But I’m on a month-to-month lease, and it was either get evicted or take out the loans.” Although the neighborhood where she lives is dangerous, Tambu is currently settled in “the best apartment I’ve ever had . “She did not want to risk losing her home by failing to pay the rent. “If you think this is bad,” she told me
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.
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.”
WERTH: I was, and what he told me was that although Hilary Miller was making substantial changes to the paper, CCRF did not exercise editorial control. That is, he says, he still had complete academic freedom to accept or reject Miller’s changes. Here’s Fusaro:
DUBNER: Let’s say you have a one-on-one audience with President Obama. We know that the President understands economics pretty well or, I would argue that at least. What’s your pitch to the President for how this industry should be treated and not eliminated?
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and are a problem for those borrowers – but it sounds like though those repeat rollovers are the source of a lot of the lender’s profits. So, if you were to eliminate the big problem from the consumer’s side, would not that remove the profit from the lender’s side, maybe kill the industry?
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.”
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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.
DEYOUNG: If we take an objective look at the folks who use payday lending, what we find is that most users of the product are very satisfied with the product. Survey results show that almost 90 percent of the users of the product say that they are either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with the product afterwards.
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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.
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.
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?
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (left) talks with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray after he testified about Wall Street reform at the 2014 Senate Banking Committee hearing. (Jonathan Ernst
STANDAERT: These payday loans cost borrowers hundreds of dollars for what is marketed as a small loan. And the Center for Responsible Lending has estimated that payday loan costs over $ 3.4 billion per year from low-income consumers stuck in the payday-loan debt trap.
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.
To access LendUp Loans, you need to live in one of the states where we are licensed to provide loans. Access LendUp via a computer or mobile phone and start the cash advance loan application process, which we’ve designed to take as little as five minutes. You will be able to provide some basic contact information, and we can not fund an approved loan without bank account information from you. Once you enter all required information and submit your application, you can expect an instant decision any time, day or night.
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.
DeYOUNG: Borrowing money is like renting money. You have to use it for a few weeks. You could rent a car for two weeks, right? You get to use that car. Well, if you calculate the annual percentage rate on that car rental – that means that you divide the amount you pay on that car by the value of that automobile – you get similarly high rates. So this is not about interest. This is about short-term use of a product that’s been lent to you. This is just arithmetic.
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