For someone who can’t pay a cellphone bill or the rent, it might seem perfectly reasonable to dish out an extra $42 to get a $300 two-week advance on a paycheck.
After all, you’d be able to pay the bills, keep your service and avoid extra late fees.
No doubt, borrowers may be able to afford to pay $15 or $20 in fees for each $100 borrowed for some payday loans.
But the real question is, can they actually afford to repay the payday loans? Come up with $300 or $500 in just two weeks? Or even in a month? It’s not a small issue, especially as regulators examine whether borrowers can afford to repay mortgages and student loans, too.
Payday lending is receiving more scrutiny. Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, noted in a speech in February that the fees may seem small for quick cash, but consumers in a financial jam could fall into debt traps if the fees pile up and consumers must borrow again to avoid defaulting and to keep making ends meet.
“I thought it was OK, but it wasn’t OK, because I couldn’t stop,” said a 53-year-old woman who used to work at a Detroit casino. She didn’t want her name used because she didn’t want her family to know about her financial troubles.
She told me that she received a $500 payday loan in 2009 when she was taking home about $650 after taxes. After missing some work, she needed money to cover bills.
She’d pay the loan but then borrow again and again over five months or so. One day, she found a way out when her boyfriend helped her cover the entire loan.
“That’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. Lately, she’s used a short-term loan at a credit union that takes smaller payments over eight weeks, so she’s gradually paying it off over time. She says that product seems more manageable.
About 19 million Americans use payday loans each year, according to the Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade group.
Some services, like Check ’n Go, have online calculators that can make the loans seem doable. Plug in a $300 amount to calculate the payback in Michigan and you’d see there’s a $42.45 finance charge. You’d pay back $342.45 and the annualized interest rate would be 368.91 percent.
The payback would vary significantly by state. In Texas, that $300 payday loan would have a finance charge of $76.15; you’d pay back $376.15, and the APR would be 661.78 percent.But the small print notes this is based on a 14-day loan term.
Frankly, this is where the grab-money-here-to-pay-money-there mess starts.
“It is highly unrealistic for borrowers to think that they will repay the loan on their next payday,” according to Pew’s latest “Payday Lending in America” report.
Alex Horowitz, research manager for Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., maintains that many people end up getting trapped in a payday loan cycle that lasts closer to five months or more.
About 27 percent of those surveyed in the Pew Report said a payday lender making a withdrawal from their bank account caused an overdraft, according to Pew’s report.
Lenders are able to automatically withdraw payments from borrowers’ bank accounts.
Only 14 percent of those surveyed in the Pew report said they can afford to pay more than $400 toward their payday loan debt in a month, the report noted.
Amy Cantu, a spokeswoman for the Community Financial Services Association of America, disputed several areas of the Pew report, noting that the typical customer uses the product for weeks or months, not years. A consumer may use the product seven times over the course of the year for a short period of time, and not all uses are consecutive, she said.
As the regulators debate this one, though, consumers who are tempted to take a payday loan must honestly answer: How quickly will I really be able to repay this loan?
Average borrowers nationwide end up indebted for five months, paying $520 in finance charges for loans averaging $375, according to the Pew report.
Will the payday loan get you through a short rough patch? Or will you end up in debt a lot longer than advertised?