The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal watchdog group, reported last week that about half of all payday loans are made to people who extend the loans so many times they end up paying more in fees than the original amount they borrowed.
The report showed that four of five payday loans are extended, or “rolled over,” within 14 days. Additional fees are charged when loans are rolled over.
“We are concerned that too many borrowers slide into the debt traps that payday loans can become,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement.
No kidding. Worse, it’s a trap that’s difficult to escape.
Payday loans, also known as cash advances or check loans, are short-term loans at high interest rates, usually for $500 or less. They often are made to borrowers with weak credit or low incomes, and the storefront businesses often are located near military bases. The equivalent annual interest rates run to three digits.
The loans work this way: You need money today, but payday is a week or two away. You write a check dated for your payday and give it to the lender. You get your money, minus the interest fee. In two weeks, the lender cashes your check or charges you more interest to extend, or “roll over,” the loan for another two weeks.
Payday loans are generally illegal in Georgia, according to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs.
What’s especially shocking in the CFPB report were some of the numbers.
The bureau based its report on data from about 12 million payday loans in 30 states in 2011 and 2012. It found that only 15 percent of borrowers repay all their payday debts on time without re-borrowing within 14 days, and 64 percent renew at least one loan one or more times.
Meanwhile, 22 percent of payday loans are extended by borrowers six times or more; 15 percent are extended at least 10 times.
The industry argues that payday loans provide a useful service to help people manage unexpected and temporary financial difficulties.
Maybe that’s how it works 15 percent of the time. But for the remaining 85 percent, it looks like this industry is grabbing someone’s billfold and not letting go.