Tell us about your experiences with Marketplace. Enter To Win
Commentary

Payday lenders need to be more transparent

Helaine Olen Mar 8, 2013
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Commentary

Payday lenders need to be more transparent

Helaine Olen Mar 8, 2013
HTML EMBED:
COPY

A couple weeks ago on Marketplace Morning Report, a payday loan lender defended his industry, saying as long as customers did the math, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Commentator Helaine Olen begs to differ.

Every year, 12 million Americans take out high-interest, short-term payday loans. The industry likes to claim it’s offering a needed service and helping people who can’t get credit anywhere else. Indeed, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than a third of borrowers simply have nowhere else to turn. And first timers are almost certain to be using the money for expenses like mortgage, utilities and credit card bills.

But something else is going on, too. The industry claims to be transparent, offering would-be customers documentation showing how much their loans will cost if they pay them off in full at the end of a two-week cycle. There’s only one problem: it takes the average borrower not two weeks, but five months to make good on a payday loan. As a result, they pay to roll the debt over again and again, ultimately shelling out more than $500 in interest for a $375 loan.

Proponents of payday loans say buyer beware; customers are responsible for doing the math to determine what their loan will ultimately cost. But borrowers aren’t expecting to take on five-month loans, so they probably don’t think they need to work out those numbers. More than three-quarters of them say they rely on loan providers to give them the facts about fees, making claims of transparency disingenuous at best.  

Here’s hoping the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can take this issue on, and insist the industry provide disclosure based on how people actually pay back payday loans in the real — not ideal — world.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.