Review Of Payday Cash Advance Loans and Online Lenders
Published 7/14/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
My Advice and Guide To The Risks Of Using Pay Day Cash Advance Loans
When it comes to the subject of money and finance, certain things seem to inherently come with bad raps, and it's not always deservedly so. As someone with a legal background, I feel that I've been naturally trained and conditioned to reflexively see both angles of a debate. Generally, I can take either opposing positions of a controversial issue. For example, when it comes to credit cards, I can see both the negatives and the positives. Some see credit cards as the scourge of consumer debt, and the ultimate symbols of excessive consumerism and financial servitude, responsible for trapping generations of consumers into irresistible cycles of minimum payments and high interest credit card debt. But at the same time, I can also see the rewarding aspects of credit card usage - the ability to use a powerful and versatile financial tool to not only build much needed credit history, but to make money and earn cash back rewards through responsible use and management.
However, even with a self proclaimed balanced view towards the use of semi-controversial financial tools for arbitrage profit and monetary gain, there are some practices out there I am reluctant to defend. Currently, I'm loathe to take a positive stance when it comes to the area of payroll advance loans and high interest short term cash advances. While I begrudgingly admit that payroll cash advances do serve a certain purpose and that there is an unmet need in the marketplace for their existence, I still see them as the pinnacle manifestations and ultimate symbols of financial distress, familial desperation, and loan sharking. Allow me to share some of my research and thoughts on the matter.
What Are Payroll Advance Loans and Where Are They Obtained?
Payday advance loans are a type of very high interest, short term cash loans used by lower to middle income people with jobs, usually during times of great financial turmoil and desperation. Payday loans have many names either formally or colloquially, including - cash advance, quick cash, post dated check loans, payroll advance loans, deferred deposit lending, and even loan shark advances. Pay day loans are almost always taken on by people who are experiencing some type of financial emergency and temporary cash shortfall that necessitates the use of risky short term loans to meet that monetary need. Oftentimes, consumers who find themselves pressed into seeking out payday cash advance loans do so because of their lack of preparedness to handle large bills arising from things like sudden medical expenses, unexpected car repairs, large electricity bills, and overextended rental payments.
Payday cash advance services can be found in most cities, at least in states that haven't outlawed or made the practice illegal. While previously limited to stores found in low income neighborhood slums next to liquor stores, bail bonds, and gun depots with barred up windows, many are now poking their collective heads into well trafficked downtown area malls and mainstream commercial centers. Currently, payday loans can be obtained at many Western Union cash checking type stores, at standalone payday lending storefronts, and even in many pawn shops. As select states have gradually begun to legislate against the practice of payday lending, many cash advance stores are now bypassing individual states and heading online to do business. A great number of new payday loaners can now be found through search engines and pay per click online ads - the new frontier for customers and businesses.
Who Uses Payday Loans and Why Would Anyone Resort To Using Them?
So what type of person represents the typical payday loan user? The answer might surprise you. No, it's not the drug addict, dead beat dad, or even the homeless guy who roams the streets, despite commonly held stereotypes to the contrary. The typical payday loan user according to some news research reports, and U.S. census bureau data from 2000 - is a lower middle class individual with a steady job, with average annual household income of around $40,000 who has bills to pay but has exhausted most financial alternatives. Thus it seems evident that payday loan consumers are generally not financial indigents or those who are unemployed. They almost always work a steady wage paying job, but struggle mightily with paycheck to paycheck living and their inability to pay down debt and deal with recurring daily expenses. However, the idea still persists in the public's mind that payday lending stores prey upon the downtrodden through the use of predatory lending practices. In one of its many attempts to dispel the notion that the payday lending industry preys upon less educated, low income families, military personnel, and even immigrants, the nation's largest payday lender, Advance America (link) (absolutely NOT an endorsement) points out that 90% of payday loan users have at least high school degrees with almost half of all loan applicants owning their own homes. While these statistics help to temper my perception somewhat, they don't really change the negative opinion I hold about these risky, high interest financial traps.
In almost all cases, the eligibility requirements to receive a payday loan are all too easy to meet - you merely have to be at least 18 years old, have a steady job with reliable wages, have a funded bank checking account, and you must have appropriate financial documentation like pay stubs to prove your income status. While some lenders demand that cash advance borrowers possess a phone, have residency status, or have at least $1,000 or so of monthly income, in most cases, not much personal or financial information is needed other than documentation of income. Not even a credit check is required. By definition, consumers of high interest pay day loans are usually cash-only spenders with shoddy or ruined credit at best. Otherwise, they probably would have gone with credit cards or utilized more mainstream ways to acquire loans exhibiting more favorable terms.
How Do Payday Loans Work and Why Are These High Interest Cash Advance Loans So Fraught With Hidden Dangers?
Payday loans are usually obtained by the financially distressed via the many paycheck anticipation loan storefronts that dot the landscape and via the many payday loan websites that can be easily accessed online. While "more reputable" and socially accepted lending institutions like banks and credit unions usually require borrowers to undergo necessary hoops and hurdles to qualify for loans, payday lenders are notoriously well known for their service with a smile and the relative ease in the way they rapidly approve consumers for these risky high interest loans. The convenience of instant approval is why they are so attractive to the financially desperate. Customers are usually only required to provide the most basic of personal information pertaining to themselves, although sometimes they are required to provide some names and phone numbers of family and friends for reference purposes (presumably to track you down in case you don't pay back your loan). The application and approval process frequently only takes minutes from inquiry to cash in hand. This rapid approval process is also how most payday lenders seem to justify their outrageously high transaction fee charges. Their explanation is that the high cost of quick approvals, assumption of higher default risk, and distribution of extremely short term loans demand much higher premiums on customers and require higher rates of return on loans offered for themselves.
Payday advance loans are offered by lenders for very short periods of time - usually anywhere from 2 weeks to 1 month at the very most (with the option to renew). Once approved, the applicant is required to write a check to the payday lender for the amount of the loan (usually anywhere from $100 to $500) plus an extra payday loan fee that the lender will ultimately keep. This is the where the devastating payday loan trap springs into action and why their use is so despised by many - the interest and payday loan fee that lenders charge is absolutely outrageous and insanely high.
Let's say you want to borrow $500 for 2 short weeks to pay off your rent or some type of utility bill that is overdue. You have an employment payroll check coming in at that time that will allow you to pay the loan back plus fee. Most payday lenders will charge you a whopping $100 or more fee to lend you that amount. If you want to borrow $500, you will need to write the lender a post dated check for $600 ($500 plus the $100 fee), posted to be cashed in 2 weeks. The check is held by the lender to ensure you will ultimately pay. In the process, this creates an incredibly high potential annual percentage rate (APR) of (brace yourself) - 521% interest. No, that is not a typo - it really is that high. When the payday advance loan comes due in 2 weeks, the entire $600 is owed in full. However, pay day lenders frequently offer the option to roll over, or renew the loan. Instead of cashing the $600 when the short term cash advance comes due, payday lenders often encourage borrowers to pay another $100 fee to extend, or flip the loan for another two weeks. Oftentimes, cash strapped borrowers are unable to pay the hefty full $600 and are forced to pay the new fee instead. In the process, the borrower is not getting more money, but is merely floating and rolling over the same loan money he received in the beginning. If not paid in full as soon as possible, what started out as a small loan can quickly balloon into a monstrous debt.
The greatest payday loan danger occurs when consumers fall into this destructive pattern of chronic payday loan borrowing. The cycle of financial devastation can be potentially crushing. Just think - let's say you took on that original $500 payday loan for 2 weeks and at the end of the 2 week period you were unable to pay off that loan plus the fee so you kept rolling the debt for 6 more cycles (2 weeks each) for a total of 12 weeks, or about 3 months give or take. By floating the cash advance loan 6 times, you'll have paid out $600 worth of payday loan fees. At the end of the period, you'll have to pay out an astounding $1,200 out of pocket cost to cover what was once a manageable $600 loan. If not paid off quickly, payday loans have the potential to make credit card debt seem like a minor nuisance in comparison.
The Growing Governmental Regulation and Legal Opposition To PayDay Advance Lending
It's difficult for me to say anything positive or in defense of the payday loan industry despite my general willingness to let free market play itself out. After all, on some level it's hard to deny that there is a thriving market for these types of short term, instant cash loans to pay down short term debt and bills. Instead of blaming payday loan companies, maybe we should be blaming the mainstream banks and credit card companies for not doing a better job of providing more accessible outlets for this type of consumer need. But regardless of the niche that they fulfill, in the interest of protecting the public from such imbalanced financial transactions and to shield people from such potentially predatory risks, many states are starting to crack down. Currently, some state legislatures have already made payday loans illegal and outlawed the practice. Many states are even in the process of enacting usury laws that impose caps and limits on the amount of interest that short term payday lenders can charge, effectively putting them out of business in those states. Currently, payday loans are illegal in the states of Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia (but this roster may change as prohibitive laws are challenged by lobbyists for the industry). While not illegal in Washington D.C., caps on payday loan interest of 24% APR (essentially a mere 92 cents on a $100 loan) has effectively driven out all lenders in the district. Other states have imposed mandatory longer lending terms to give consumers more of a fighting chance.
The dangers of payday loans and their perceived blight on society is also why the federal government has stepped in as well, into an area that has been primarily regulated by state governments. The United States enacted a law that became effective in 2007, capping short term cash advance loan interest rate to 36% APR for all military personnel, citing the terrible financial distractions and conflicts of security interest that they cause. While this rate cap may still seem pretty high, the rate restriction limit is mere pennies compared to the nearly 500% APR or more that payday lenders used to charge civilians, and military service men and women. However, as a result, payday stores simply stopped lending to military personnel altogether, forcing needy servicemen and women to look elsewhere, a rather disconcerting thought.
Of course, with the increasing regulatory efforts, many payday lenders have migrated onto the Internet, a rather disturbing trend, but perhaps a sobering reminder that their presence in some shape or another fulfills a need in society whether we like it or not. They may not be available now in all states, but financially desperate borrowers still seem to seek them out.
For those of you who insist on seeking out payday loans, I highly advise you to reconsider. There are options and alternatives out there my friend. While payday advances may seem attractive and easy to obtain, it's a financial debt/death trap in waiting. Unless you are absolutely certain you have the means to pay off the short term loan in one loan cycle, don't even think about it. Why not consider other more reasonable alternatives to payday loans?
Much Better Financial Alternatives To Getting A Pay Day Cash Advance:
- Ask your existing creditor, lender, landlord, or bill collector for additional time to pay your bill in full. This is the quickest and most recommended way to get yourself out of an immediate cash shortfall. Unfortunately, this option is not always dependable as not all of your existing creditors will be agreeable to this type of generosity.
- Borrow from your friends or family instead if you can. Put the short term loan in writing and back up your good word with future action.
- Perhaps you can request a one time or temporary pay advance from your employer. While it may not look good in the eyes of your employer to ask for a pay advance, desperate times do require more desperate measures.
- Get a short term loan from your bank or credit union, or apply for a 0% balance transfer credit card offer. If your credit score is still salvageable, the 0% balance transfer option is the recommended way to go. I've personally used 0% APR balance transfer cards to get myself through difficult financial jams before. Read this guide to 0% balance transfers if you don't know what they are. Transferring existing high interest debt to 0% APR credit cards works.
- Try visiting a pawn shop instead. While pawn shops and pawn brokers still charge rather hefty interest and fees for loaning you money in exchange for collateral as security, their rates tend to be on par with that imposed by credit cards. If you must choose, I suggest going with a pawn shop instead of a payday storefront branch. It's a bit more paperwork to come up with the right collateral, but the terms are better.
Where To Find The Best Payday Loan Lenders Online (If You Insist On This Course Of Action)
While payday loans do serve a need, always seek out better options first! I will admit I'm no expert when it comes to finding the best payday loan lenders. While I occasionally recommend sites in the form of affiliate recommendations, I'm extremely leery of inserting payday loan affiliate links here. Instead. you can find payday lenders through Google searches, online banners, website ads, and through the Community Financial Service Association (CFSA)'s list of CFSA member payday loan companies. Despite the organization's name, the CFSA represents the payday advance industry's interests completely and does not have your best interest as a consumer in mind. The list of approved payday loan companies is provided only as a useful resource and not as a recommendation of any of the companies listed.�� While it's a financially morbid choice I would prefer not to make, I'd rather you get financially ripped off by a "reputable", industry-certified lender because you affirmatively decided you must get a payday loan, than get yourself ripped off and have your identity stolen via some unscrupulous and unknown payday loan scammer's website.