New CRL Research: Payday loans are gateway to long-term debt

Average "short term" loan keeps borrowers in debt for 212 days per year


Center for Responsible Lending
March 31, 2011

Although payday loans are marketed as quick solutions to occasional financial shortfalls, new research from the Center for Responsible Lending shows that these small dollar loans are far from short-term.  Payday Loans, Inc., the latest in a series of CRL payday lending research reports, found that payday loan borrowers are indebted for more than half of the year on average, even though each individual payday loan typically must be repaid within two weeks.

CRL’s research also shows that people who continue to take out payday loans over a two-year period tend to increase the frequency and extent of their debt. Among these borrowers, a significant share (44 percent), ultimately have trouble paying their loan and experience a default. The default results in borrowers paying more fees from both the payday lender and their bank.

Federal banking regulators have voiced their concerns about long-term payday loan usage. For example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has stated that it is inappropriate to keep payday borrowers indebted for more than 90 days in any 12 month period. Yet CRL determined that the average borrower with a payday loan owed 212 days in their first year of payday loan use, and an average of 372 days over two years.

“This new report finds even more disturbing lending patterns than our earlier reports”, said Uriah King, a senior vice-president with CRL. “Not only is the actual length of payday borrowing longer, the amount and frequency grows as well. The first payday loan becomes the gateway to long-term debt and robs working families of funds available to cover everyday living expenses.” 

CRL tracked transactions over 24 months for 11,000 borrowers in Oklahoma who took out their first payday loans in March, June or September of 2006. Oklahoma is one of the few states where a loan database makes this kind of analysis possible. CRL then compared these findings with available information from regulator data and borrower interviews in other states.   

According to Christopher Peterson, a University of Utah law professor and nationally-recognized consumer law expert, “The Center for Responsible Lending’s latest research on multi-year, first-use payday loan borrowers provides conclusive evidence that payday loans are not short-term debts. Rather, their data shows payday loans evolve into a spiral of long-term, recurrent, and escalating debt patterns.”  

Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey and profiled in Almighty Debt, a recent CNN documentary, also commented on the new research findings: “Reputable businesses build their loyal clientele by offering value-priced products and services. Customers choose to return to these businesses. But payday lenders build their repeat business by trapping borrowers into a cycle of crippling debt with triple digit interest rates and fees. Lenders should be completely satisfied with a 36 percent interest cap.”

To address the problem of long-term payday debt, CRL recommends that states end special exemptions that allow payday loans to be offered at triple-digit rates by restoring traditional interest rate caps at or around 36 percent annual interest. A 36 percent annual interest rate cap has proven effective in stopping predatory payday lending across seventeen states and the District of Columbia. Active duty service members and their families are also protected from high-cost payday loans with a 36 percent annual cap.

In addition, CRL notes that both states and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the federal level can take other steps such as limiting the amount of time a borrower can remain indebted in high-cost payday loans; and requiring sustainable terms and meaningful underwriting of small loans generally. 

Further information on the report at: http://www.responsiblelending.org/payday-lending/research-analysis/payday-loans-inc.html.

For more information: Kathleen Day at (202) 349-1871 or kathleen.day@responsiblelending.org; Ginna Green at (510) 379-5513 or ginna.green@responsiblelending.org; or Charlene Crowell at (919) 313-8523 or charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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About the Center for Responsible Lending

The Center for Responsible Lending is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization dedicated to protecting homeownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial practices. CRL is affiliated with Self-Help, one of the nation's largest community development financial institutions.