Payday Loans in a Nutshell

Payday Loans in a Nutshell

A payday loan (also called a payday advance) is a small, short-term unsecured loan, “regardless of whether repayment of loans is linked to a borrower’s payday”. The loans are also sometimes referred to as “cash advances”, though that term can also refer to cash provided against a prearranged line of credit such as a credit card. Payday advance loans rely on the consumer having previous payroll and employment records. Legislation regarding payday loans varies widely between different countries and, within the USA, between different states.

To prevent usury (unreasonable and excessive rates of interest), some jurisdictions limit the annual percentage rate (APR) that any lender, including payday lenders, can charge. Some jurisdictions outlaw payday lending entirely, and some have very few restrictions on payday lenders.

For a $15 charge on a $100 2-week payday loan, the annual percentage rate is 3686%; the usefulness of an annual rate (such as an APR) has been debated because APRs are designed to enable consumers to compare the cost of long-term credit and may not be meaningful in cases where the loan will be outstanding for only a few weeks. Nevertheless, careful scrutiny of the particular measure of loan cost quoted is necessary to make meaningful comparisons.

In practice, consumers do not find value in either APR or EAR, but rely on the flat pricing signal in dollars and cents when determining whether or not to use a payday loan.

Payday loans carry substantial risk to the lender; they have a net default rate of 6%, and according to one study, defaults cost payday lenders around a quarter of their annual revenue.

The loan process
The basic loan process involves a lender providing a short-term unsecured loan to be repaid at the borrower’s next payday. Typically, some verification of employment or income is involved (via pay stubs and bank statements), although according to one source, some payday lenders do not verify income or run credit checks. Individual companies and franchises have their own underwriting criteria.

In the traditional retail model, borrowers visit a payday lending store and secure a small cash loan, with payment due in full at the borrower’s next paycheck. The borrower writes a postdated cheque to the lender in the full amount of the loan plus fees. On the maturity date, the borrower is expected to return to the store to repay the loan in person. If the borrower does not repay the loan in person, the lender may redeem the check. If the account is short on funds to cover the check, the borrower may now face a bounced check fee from their bank in addition to the costs of the loan, and the loan may incur additional fees and/or an increased interest rate as a result of the failure to pay.

In the more recent innovation of online payday loans, consumers complete the loan application online (or in some instances via fax, especially where documentation is required). The loan is then transferred by direct deposit to the borrower’s account, and the loan repayment and/or the finance charge is electronically withdrawn on the borrower’s next payday.

User demographics and reasons for borrowing
According to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, “Most payday loan borrowers are white, female, and are 25 to 44 years old. However, after controlling for other characteristics, there are five groups that have higher odds of having used a payday loan: those without a four-year college degree; home renters; African Americans; those earning below $40,000 annually; and those who are separated or divorced.” Most borrowers use payday loans to cover ordinary living expenses over the course of months, not unexpected emergencies over the course of weeks. The average borrower is indebted about five months of the year.

Pew’s methodology and conclusions are not supported by other sources. Texas’ Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner collected data on 2012 payday loan usage that challenges the assertion of five month’s annual indebtedness. At least one editorial from an industry expert challenges the study. Pew’s study itself only sampled 451 users, without providing reasons or methodology for why those users were chosen, and why the sample size was not larger when the study itself reported 12 million users nationwide.

In one study, by Gregory Elliehausen, Division of Research of the Federal Reserve System and Financial Services Research Program at The GWU School of Business, 41% earn between $25,000 and $50,000, and 39% report incomes of $40,000 or more. 18% have an income below $25,000.

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