A payday loan (also called a payday advance, salary loan, payroll loan, small dollar loan, short term, or cash advance loan) 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. In the United States, the rates of these loans were formerly restricted in most states by the Uniform Small Loan Laws (USLL), with 36%-40% APR generally the norm.
There are many different ways to calculate annual percentage rate of a loan. Depending on which method is used, the rate calculated may differ dramatically. E.g., for a $15 charge on a $100 14-day payday loan, it could be (from the borrower’s perspective) anywhere from 391% to 3733%.
Although some have noted that these loans appear to carry substantial risk to the lender, it has recently been shown that these loans carry no more long term risk for the lender than other forms of credit. These studies seem to be confirmed by the SEC 10-K filings of at least one lender, who notes a charge-off rate of 3.2%.
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 or an increased interest rate (or both) 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 funds are 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 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.
This reinforces the findings of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) study from 2011 which found black and Hispanic families, recent immigrants, and single parents were more likely to use payday loans. In addition, their reasons for using these products were not as suggested by the payday industry for one time expenses, but to meet normal recurring obligations.
Research for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation found that a majority of Illinois payday loan borrowers earn $30,000 or less per year. Texas’ Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner collected data on 2012 payday loan usage, and found that refinances accounted for $2.01 billion in loan volume, compared with $1.08 billion in initial loan volume. The report did not include information about annual indebtedness. A letter to the editor from an industry expert argued that other studies have found that consumers fare better when payday loans are available to them. Pew’s reports have focused on how payday lending can be improved, but have not assessed whether consumers fare better with or without access to high-interest loans. Pew’s demographic analysis was based on a random-digit-dialing (RDD) survey of 33,576 people, including 1,855 payday loan borrowers.
In another 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.