The argument that payday lending shouldn’t exist would be easy if there were widespread, affordable sources of small-dollar loans
A more nefarious theory is that banks currently make a lot of money on a payday-lending alternative that already exists-namely, overdraft protection
The rules should be formally proposed this spring, but the pushback-from the industry and from more-surprising sources-has already been fierce. ” All 10 of Florida’s congressional Democrats wrote in a letter to Richard Cordray, the bureau’s director, that the proposals do an “immeasurable disservice to our constituents, many of whom rely on the availability of short-term and small-dollar loans.” Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, recently co-sponsored a bill that would delay the regulations for at least two years.
“Payday lending brings up this meta issue,” says Prentiss Cox, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s law school and a member of the consumer advisory board at the bureau: “What should consumer protection be?” If most payday-lending customers ultimately need to fall back on financial support from family members, or on bankruptcy, then perhaps the industry should be eliminated, because it merely makes the inevitable more painful. Yet some consumers do use payday loans just as the industry markets them-as a short-term emergency source of cash, one that won’t be there if the payday-lending industry goes away. But thus far, there are not.
Dennis Shaul, who, before he became the head of the industry’s trade association, was a senior adviser to then-Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, accused the rule-makers of a harmful paternalism, rooted in a belief that payday-lending customers “are not able to make their own choices about credit
Along with reforming payday lending, Cordray is trying to jawbone banks and credit unions into offering small-dollar, payday-like loans. Theoretically, they could use their preexisting branches, mitigating the overhead costs that affect payday stores and hence enabling profitable lending at a much lower rate. This is the holy grail for consumer advocates. “What everyone really wants to see is for it to come into the mainstream of financial services if it’s going to exist at all,” Cox says.
This idea has been around since at least 2005, when Sheila Bair, before her tenure at the FDIC, wrote a paper arguing that banks were the natural solution. But that was more than a decade ago. “The issue has been intractable,” Bair says. Back in 2008, the FDIC began a two-year pilot program encouraging banks to make small-dollar loans with an annualized interest-rate cap of 36 percent. But it didn’t take off, at least in part because of the time required for bank personnel, who are paid a lot more than payday-store staffers, to underwrite the loans. The idea is also at odds with a different federal mandate: Since the financial crisis, bank regulators have been insisting that their charges take less risk, not more. After guidelines issued by the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency warned of the risks involved in small-dollar lending, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bankcorp stopped offering payday-like loans altogether.
One study done by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that most debit-card overdraft fees are incurred on transactions of $24 or less, and yield a median fee of $34. Why would banks want to undercut such a rich source of profits?
As for credit unions, although a few have had success offering small, short-term loans, many struggle with regulators, with reputational risk, and with the cost of making such loans. “We are all cognizant that we should do it, but it is very challenging to figure out a business model that works,” says Tom Kane, the president of the Illinois Credit Union League payday loans in Columbus OH. In any event, the credit-union industry is small-smaller altogether, Kane points out, than JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, or Wells Fargo alone. “The scale isn’t there,” he says.