The ads are on the radio, television, the Internet, even in the mail. They refer to payday loans, cash advance loans, check advance loans, post-dated check loans, or deferred deposit loans. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, says that regardless of their name, these small, short-term, high-rate loans by check cashers, finance companies and others all come at a very high price.
Here’s how they work: A borrower writes a personal check payable to the lender for the amount the person wants to borrow, plus the fee they must pay for borrowing. The company gives the borrower the amount of the check less the fee, and agrees to hold the check until the loan is due, usually the borrower’s next payday. Or, with the borrower’s permission, the company deposits the amount borrowed – less the fee – into the borrower’s checking account electronically. The loan amount is due to be debited the next payday. The fees on these loans can be a percentage of the face value of the check – or they can be based on increments of money borrowed: say, a fee for every $50 or $100 borrowed. The borrower is charged new fees each time the same loan is extended or “rolled over.”
The federal Truth in Lending Act treats payday loans like other types of credit: the lenders must disclose the cost of the loan. Payday lenders must give you the finance charge (a dollar amount) and the annual percentage rate (APR – the cost of credit on a yearly basis) in writing before you sign for the loan. The APR is based on several things, including the amount you borrow, the interest rate and credit costs you’re being charged, and the length of your loan.
A payday loan – that is, a cash advance secured by a personal check or paid by electronic transfer is very expensive credit. How expensive? Say you need to borrow $100 for two weeks. You write a personal check for $115, with the $15 fee to borrow the money. The check casher or payday lender agrees to hold your check until your next payday. When that day comes around, either the lender deposits the check and you redeem it by paying the $115 in cash, or you roll-over the loan and are charged $15 more to extend the financing for 14 more days. If you agree to electronic payments instead of a check, here’s what would happen on your next payday: the company would debit the full amount of the loan from your checking account electronically, or extend the loan for an additional $15. The cost of the initial $100 loan is a $15 finance charge and an annual percentage rate of 391 percent. If you roll-over the loan three times, the finance charge would climb to $60 to borrow the $100.
Alternatives to Payday Loans
Before you decide to take out a payday loan, consider some alternatives.
1. Consider a small loan from your credit union or a small loan company. Some banks may offer short-term loans for small amounts at competitive rates. A local community-based organization may make small business loans to people. A cash advance on a credit card also may be possible, but it may have a higher interest rate than other sources of funds: find out the terms before you decide. In any case, shop first and compare all available offers.
2. Shop for the credit offer with the lowest cost. Compare the APR and the finance charge, which includes loan fees, interest and other credit costs. You are looking for the lowest APR. Military personnel have special protections against super-high fees or rates, and all consumers in some states and the District of Columbia have some protection dealing with limits on rates. Even with these protections, payday loans can be expensive, particularly if you roll-over the loan and are responsible for paying additional fees. Other credit offers may come with lower rates and costs.
3. Contact your creditor or loan servicer as quickly as possible if you are having trouble with your payments, and ask for more time. Many may be willing to work with consumers who they believe are acting in good faith. They may offer an extension on your bills; make sure to find out what the charges would be for that service – a late charge, an additional finance charge, or a higher interest rate.
4. Contact your local consumer credit counseling service if you need help working out a debt repayment plan with creditors or developing a budget. Non-profit groups in every state offer credit guidance to consumers for no or low cost. You may want to check with your employer, credit union, or housing authority for no- or low-cost credit counseling programs too.
5. Make a realistic budget, including your monthly and daily expenditures, and plan, plan, plan. Try to avoid unnecessary purchases: the costs of small, every-day items like a cup of coffee add up. At the same time, try to build some savings: small deposits do help. A savings plan – however modest – can help you avoid borrowing for emergencies. Saving the fee on a $300 payday loan for six months, for example, can help you create a buffer against financial emergencies.
6. Find out if you have – or if your bank will offer you – overdraft protection on your checking account. If you are using most or all the funds in your account regularly and you make a mistake in your account records, overdraft protection can help protect you from further credit problems. Find out the terms of the overdraft protection available to you – both what it costs and what it covers. Some banks offer “bounce protection,” which may cover individual overdrafts from checks or electronic withdrawals, generally for a fee. It can be costly, and may not guarantee that the bank automatically will pay the overdraft.
The bottom line on payday loans: Try to find an alternative. If you must use one, try to limit the amount. Borrow only as much as you can afford to pay with your next paycheck – and still have enough to make it to next payday.