As a growing number of Americans slip out of the middle-class into economic insecurity, they are increasingly vulnerable to predatory lending schemes like the payday loan. Each year, about 12 million Americans incur long-term debt by taking out a short-term loan that’s intended to cover a borrowers’ expenses until they receive their next paycheck. Payday lending takes “unfair advantage of lower-income borrowers,” with most taking out nine repeat loans per year with an interest rate as high as 400 percent. Forty-four percent of borrowers ultimately default, even after paying back their loans several times over, and thus are pushed ever closer to poverty.
But, as a new National People’s Action report shows, one borrower’s poverty is a payday lender’s profit. The report finds that lenders “take at the very least $3.4 billion” from low-income communities every year in fees alone. Titled “Profiting Off Poverty,” the report describes how payday lending companies open in areas isolated from traditional banking options to ensure they are the only available line of credit. Faith and Public Life reports:
While payday lenders prey on the most vulnerable and drive the poor into never ending cycles of indebtedness, the lending institutions reap huge profits by borrowing from big banks like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, US Bank and Bank of America at extremely low interest rates, “which they in turn lend out as payday loans charging between 260% and 570% APR”.
As the “Profiting off Poverty” report details, these companies continue to make record-breaking profits by setting up in neighborhoods isolated from traditional banking options. With more payday lending locations than McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S., these companies gladly admit that they are often the only available line of credit for people in poverty.
Major banks like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo finance about 42 percent of the entire payday loan industry in the U.S. Those loans strip $3.1 billion in wealth from low-income, working poor who are literally trying to pay bills from paycheck to paycheck. This kind of scheme exemplifies the need for an agency like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and indeed is the subject of the bureau’s first public hearing today in Alabama.
Newly-appointed bureau head Richard Cordray intends to research the industry and its enforcement actions that pose “immediate risk to consumers and are clearly illegal.” Endeavoring to answer whether regulation of the industry is necessary or whether the practice should be “explicitly restricted,” Cordray said that the goal will be “to develop a more vibrant, competitive market for small consumer loans.”