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Bipartisan bill puts payday loan industry before people | The Stand

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By JOHN BURBANK


(Feb. 12, 2015) — If your friend told you that she could get a payday loan of $700, and that the interest would be 36%, plus a small loan origination fee of 15%, plus a monthly maintenance fee of 7.5%, you might advise her to get out her calculator. Here’s why: That $700 loan could cost her $1,687, even if she makes all her payments on time. Right now, under state law, she can get the same loan and it will cost her $795 in all.

Which loan would you choose? That seems like an easy question to answer. But a lot of legislators have failed this test in Olympia. They are sponsoring a bill, HB 1922, to enable MoneyTree to sell “small consumer installment loans,” with high interest, maintenance fees, and origination fees.

Why would these legislators — 36 in the House and 12 in the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans — want to enhance the revenue of the payday loan industry? State Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) is the prime sponsor of this legislation. He says that “(o)ur current payday lending system is broken. Too often it leaves consumers in a never-ending cycle of debt.”

Unfortunately, HB 1922 makes matters worse, not better, for borrowers.

Rep. Springer may not know how well the law that he helped pass in 2009 reformed payday loan practices. That law leashed in the payday loan industry, with new standards that helped to make sure that people with loans did not get pushed deeper and deeper into debt. The industry didn’t like it, as the total amount of loans fell by more than $1 billion, from $1.3 billion in 2009 to $300 million in 2013. The amount of fees that the industry collected dropped by $136 million annually. The number of payday loan storefronts has fallen from over 600 in 2009 to less than 200 now. The total number of loans has fallen from 3.2 million in 2009 to 870,000 in 2013. That’s a lot of money for people to keep in their communities, rather than giving it to MoneyTree.

But very quietly last year, the owners and executive staff of MoneyTree, principally the Bassford family, dropped $81,700 in campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans. Many of the beneficiaries of this largesse are sponsoring the MoneyTree bill, HB 1922. In fact, the chief sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Marko Liias (D-Edmonds) received $3,800 from the Bassfords.

What would be the result of the bill that Rep. Springer and Sen. Liias are pushing? For a $700 loan, what now costs a total of $795 could cost $1,687. The poor person (literally) who gets this loan would end up paying $252 in interest, $105 in origination fees, and $630 in monthly maintenance fees, as well as, of course, the original one-year loan of $700. From 2017 on, the fees on these loans will be automatically raised through the consumer price index.

MoneyTree’s investment of $81,700 in campaigns could result in literally hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. That’s quite a cost-benefit equation for the Bassfords. How about the working people who take out these loans? Their average monthly income is $2,934, or about $35,000 a year. With this bill, legislators punish the already poor for being poor, while enhancing the wealth of the payday loan perpetrators.

The legislation pretends to be helpful to borrowers by requiring this notice to be included in loan documents: “A SMALL CONSUMER INSTALLMENT LOAN SHOULD BE USED ONLY TO MEET SHORT-TERM CASH NEEDS.” Now isn’t that helpful! What is not helpful is that this bill was scheduled to be voted out of committee Thursday, even before the committee heard the bill on Wednesday, and even before any bill analysis was developed by legislative staff.

Our current payday loan system may be broken from MoneyTree’s perspective. But, while it is not perfect for low-income borrowers, it works, and it is a lot better than the previous system. Perhaps some responsible legislators will slow down the fast-track on the MoneyTree bill, and put people ahead of MoneyTree profits.


John Burbank is the executive director and founder of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle. John can be reached at john@eoionline.org.

[…]

Payday Loans Are Bleeding American Workers Dry. Finally, the …

We’ve all seen the ads. “Need cash fast?” a speaker asks. “Have bad credit? You can get up to $1,000 within 24 hours.” The ad then directs you to a sketchy-sounding website, like 44cash.com, or a slightly-less-sketchy-sounding business, like PLS Loan Store. Most of us roll our eyes or go grab another beer when these commercials air. But 12 million people a year turn to payday lenders, who disguise the real cost of these loans. Borrowers often become saddled with unaffordable loans that have sky-high interest rates.

For years, states have tried to crack down on these deceptive business practices. Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is giving it a shot. On Monday, the New York Times reported that the CFPB will soon issue the first draft of new regulations on the $46 billion payday-lending industry. The rules are being designed to ensure borrowers have a better understanding of the real cost of payday loans and to promote a transparent and fair short-term lending market.

On the surface, payday loans sound like a good idea to many cash-strapped Americans. They offer a short-term loan—generally two weeks in length—for a fixed fee, with payment generally due on the borrower’s next payday. The average borrower takes out a $375 two-week loan with a fee of $55, according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Safe Small-Dollar Loans Research Project which has put out multiple reports on payday lenders over the past few years. But payday lenders confuse borrowers in a couple of ways.

First, borrowers are rarely able to pay back their loans in two weeks. So they “roll over” the payday loan by paying just the $55 fee. Now, they don’t owe the $375 principal for another two weeks, but they’re hit with another $55 fee. That two-week, $375 loan with a $55 fee just effectively became a four-week, $375 loan with a $110 fee. If, after another two weeks, they still can’t repay the principal, then they will roll it over again for yet another $55 fee. You can see how quickly this can spiral out of control. What started as a two-week loan can last for months at a time—and the fees borrowers incur along the way end up dwarfing the principle. Pew found that the average borrower paid $520 in fees for the $375 loan, which was rolled over an average of eight times. In fact, using data from Oklahoma, Pew found that “more borrowers use at least 17 loans in a year than just one.”

Second, borrowers are often confused about the cost of the loan. The $55 fee—payday lenders often advertise a fee of $15 per $100 borrowed—sounds like a reasonable price for a quick infusion of cash, especially compared to a credit card with a 24-percent annual percentage rate (APR). But that’s actually an extremely high price. Consider the standard two-week, $375 loan with a $55 fee. If you were to roll that loan over for an entire year, you would pay $1,430 in fees ($55 times 26). That’s 3.81 times the original $375 loan—an APR of 381 percent.

Many borrowers, who badly need money to hold them over until their next paycheck, don’t think about when they’ll actually be able to pull it back or how many fees they’ll accumulate. “A lot of people who are taking out the loan focus on the idea that the payday loan is short-term or that it has a fixed $55 fee on average,” said Nick Bourke, the director of the Pew research project. “And they make their choice based on that.”

Lenders advertise the loans as a short-term fix—but their business model actually depends on borrowers accruing fees. That was the conclusion of a 2009 study by the Federal Reserve of Kansas City. Other research has backed up the study’s findings. “They don’t achieve profitability unless their average customer is in debt for months, not weeks,” said Bourke. That’s because payday lending is an inefficient business. Most lenders serve only 500 unique customers a year, Pew found. But they have high overhead costs like renting store space, maintaining working computers, and payroll. That means lenders have to make a significant profit on each borrower.

It’s also why banks and other large companies can offer short-term loans at better prices. Some banks are offering a product called a “deposit advance loan” which is nearly identical to a payday loan. But the fees on those loans are far smaller than traditional payday loans—around $7.50-$10 per $100 loan per two-week borrowing period compared with $15 per $100 loan per two-week period. Yet short-term borrowers are often unaware of these alternatives. In the end, they often opt for payday loans, which are much better advertised.

The CFPB can learn a lot about how to (and how not to) formulate its upcoming regulations from state efforts to crack down on payday lenders. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have implemented restrictive rules, like setting an interest-rate cap at 36 percent APR, that have shutdown the payday-loan business almost entirely. Another eight states have created hybrid systems that impose some regulations on payday lenders, like requiring longer repayment periods or lower fees, but have not put them out of business. The remaining 28 states have few, if any, restrictions on payday lending:

The CFPB doesn’t have the power to set an interest rate cap nationally, so it won’t be able to stop payday lending altogether. But that probably shouldn’t be the Bureau’s goal anyways. For one, eliminating payday lending could have unintended consequences, such as by driving the lending into other unregulated markets. In some states, that seems to have already happened, with payday lenders registering as car title lenders, offering the same loans under a different name. Whether it would happen on a large scale is less clear. In states that have effectively outlawed payday lending, 95 percent of borrowers said they do not use payday loans elsewhere, whether from online payday lenders or other borrowers. “Part of the reason for that is people who get payday loans [are] pretty much mainstream consumers,” Bourke said. “They have a checking account. They have income, which is usually from employment. They’re attracted to the idea of doing business with a licensed lender in their community. And if the stores in the community go away, they’re not very disposed towards doing business with unlicensed lenders or some kind of loan shark.”

In addition, borrowers value payday lending. In Pew’s survey, 56 percent of borrowers said that the loan relieved stress compared to just 31 percent who said it was a source of stress. Forty-eight percent said payday loans helped borrowers, with 41 percent saying they hurt them. In other words, the short-term, high-cost lending market has value. But borrowers also feel that lenders take advantage of them and the vast majority want more regulation.

So what should that regulation look like? Bourke points to Colorado as an example. Lawmakers there capped the annual interest payment at 45 percent while allowing strict origination and maintenance fees. Even more importantly, Colorado requires lenders to allow borrowers to repay the loans over at least six months, with payments over time slowly reducing the principal. These reforms have been a major success. Average APR rates in Colorado fell from 319 percent to 129 percent and borrowers spent $41.9 million less in 2012 than in 2009, before the changes. That’s a 44 percent drop in payments. At the same time, the number of loans per borrower dropped by 71 percent, from 7.8 to 2.3.

The Colorado law did reduce the number of licensed locations by 53 percent, from 505 to 238. Yet, the number of individual consumers fell just 15 percent. Overall, that leads to an 81 percent increase in borrowers per store, making the industry far more efficient and allowing payday lenders to earn a profit even with lower interest rates and a longer repayment period.

Bourke proposes that the CFPB emulate Colorado’s law by requiring the lenders to allow borrowers to repay the loans over a longer period. But he also thinks the Bureau could improve upon the law by capping payments at 5 percent of borrower’s pretax income, known as an ability-to-repay standard. For example, a monthly payment should not exceed 5 percent of monthly, pretax income. Lenders should also be required to clearly disclose the terms of the loan, including the periodic payment due, the total cost of the loan (all fee and interest payments plus principal), and the effective APR.

The CFPB hasn’t announced the rules yet. But the Times report indicated that the Bureau is considering an ability-to-repay standard. The CFPB may also include car title lenders in the regulation with the hope of reducing payday lenders’ ability to circumvent the rules. However, instead of requiring longer payment periods, the agency may instead limit the number of times a lender could roll over a borrower’s loan. In other words, borrowers may only be able to roll over the loan three or four times a year, preventing them from repeatedly paying the fee.

If the Bureau opts for that rule, it could limit the effectiveness of the law. “That kind of tries to tackle a problem of repeat borrowing and long-term borrowing but that’s a symptom,” Bourke said. “That’s not really the core disease. The core disease is unaffordable payments.” In addition, it could prevent a transparent market from emerging, as payday lenders continue to take advantage of borrowers’ ignorance over these loans. “The market will remain in this mire,” Burke added, “where it’s dominated by a deceptive balloon payment product that makes it difficult for consumers to make good choices but also makes it difficult for better types of lenders to compete with the more fair and transparent product.” Ultimately, that’s in the CFPB’s hands.

[…]

Borrower beware with payday loans | Globalnews.ca

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REGINA – It’s a quick way to get cash when you’re short before a payday. However, the Saskatchewan government wants people to think twice before borrowing money from a payday loan lender.

In Saskatchewan, lenders can charge up to $23.00 in interest and fees for every one-hundred dollars borrowed. On a four-hundred dollar loan, that adds up to $92.00.

Story continues below

The loan, plus interest and fees, is due on your next payday and is withdrawn automatically from your bank account. If a loan is defaulted, the lender can charge up to a maximum of 30 per cent per annum on the loan principle and up to $50.00 for a NSF cheque or if a pre-authorized debit is dishonoured.

IN DEPTH: Chequed out: Inside the payday loan cycle

“Sometimes people don’t have a lot of options when it comes to borrowing money,” says Cory Peters, the consumer credit division director for the Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority of Saskatchewan.

“We want to make sure that people are aware of the fees and re-payment timeframes that are associated with payday loans.”

A Global News analysis by Patrick Cain has found a striking correlation between payday lenders and low-income, high-social-assistance areas.

Payday loan stores and welfare rates »

Payday loan stores and welfare rates

Payday loan stores and income »

Payday loan stores and income

The Saskatchewan government has six tips for those using payday loans:

  1. Use a licensed Saskatchewan lender;
  2. Know the costs – frequent use adds up over time;
  3. Loans are due on your next regular payday;
  4. Don’t take out a second payday loan to pay for the first one;
  5. Read the fine print;
  6. If you change your mind, you have until the end of the next business day to return the money and cancel the loan.

Report an error […]

How The Post Office Could Take On The Payday Loan Industry

With the idea of postal banking becoming more mainstream in the U.S., the head of the largest union of postal workers says he plans to make a revived banking service part of his union’s upcoming contract talks with the U.S. Postal Service.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), told The Huffington Post that postal banking — when post offices also offer simple banking services like checking and savings accounts — is “an idea that should be reborn and whose time has come.”

“Basic postal banking is done in many countries around the world, and in many of those countries it’s a revenue-driver for the post office,” Dimondstein said. “We think it’s a win-win-win situation. It’s great for the public. It’s great for the post office. And it’s great for postal workers.”

Dimondstein’s plans to make postal banking part of contract talks were first reported by Salon’s David Dayen.

The U.S. Postal Service once offered simple banking services to the public, but federal reforms abolished the services in 1966. With the postal service now facing a drop in first-class mail and costly mandates from Congress, the notion of restoring banking has been bandied about as a way to get the agency on more solid footing while extending some basic services to underbanked communities.

In particular, it’s been pitched as a potential alternative to the high-interest payday loans that poorer Americans rely on.

Last year, the postal service’s Office of the Inspector General recommended that the agency consider offering check cashing, money transfers and modest loans to customers who don’t have their own banks. The idea has gained currency not only with postal service boosters, but also with critics of Wall Street, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

In an op-ed last year, Warren argued that the postal service is the one organization with “the public mission, the infrastructure, the experience and the well-trained employees needed to help address this problem” of predatory lending aimed at the poor.

One interested party that hasn’t endorsed the concept of postal banking is the postal service itself. Patrick Donahoe, the postmaster general until earlier this month, “scoffed” at the idea during a press conference late last year, according to the Associated Press. “Our role is delivery,” not banking, Donahoe said.

It isn’t apparent yet how receptive Donahoe’s replacement, Megan J. Brennan, might be to reviving postal banking services. Asked whether the agency’s new management would entertain such a discussion, an agency spokeswoman said, “We’ll just have to wait and see what’s addressed during the negotiation process” with the union.

The divide over postal banking is part of a broader philosophical disagreement over the future of the post office. Heading an agency faced with red ink — most of it due to a requirement imposed by Congress that the agency pre-fund retirement benefits years in advance — Donahoe sought more latitude to streamline the postal service, pushing proposals that would eliminate Saturday delivery and close more mail processing facilities.

Postal unions have staunchly opposed such moves and argued that they will lead to the so-called death spiral, in which reduced services inevitably lead to the agency’s demise.

APWU will begin negotiations for a new contract with the postal service next week, and the union expects the agency to seek concessions in employee health and retirement benefits — a common feature in nearly all union contract talks these days. Though it isn’t clear how postal banking could fit into such a contract, Dimondstein said he believes the negotiations will provide a good opportunity to put the proposal before postal management.

“We think it’s most appropriate that the needs of [postal customers] are talked about at the bargaining table,” Dimondstein said. “And I can tell you this: I haven’t met a single person — though I don’t run into Wall Street bankers often — who think this is a bad idea.”

[…]

Federal Regulators to Crack Down on Unaffordable Payday Loans …

Image Shawn-M.-Griffiths_avatar_1381172453-35x35.png

Feb 9, 2015

The New York Times

reported Monday

that federal regulators are expected to draft new rules to govern short-term loans, including car titles and payday loans, which to date have fallen mostly under the jurisdiction of individual state law. While many states have tried to put an end to short-term loans with exorbitant interest rates, payday lenders have found ways to get around these laws or have lobbied state legislatures to soften regulations.

“Such maneuvers by the roughly $46 billion payday loan industry, state regulators say, have frustrated their efforts to protect consumers,” the Times reports.

According to the report, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will soon take the first step by federal regulators to reduce the number of unaffordable loans lenders can make. The CFPB, created after the 2008 financial crisis, is an independent agency tasked with protecting consumers in the financial sector. Along with banks and credit unions, payday lenders fall within the agency’s jurisdiction.

In March 2014, the CFPB released a startling report on the realities of payday loans and the effect they have on low-income households and borrowers, the demographic payday lenders target most. The people lenders seek out are in desperate financial situations, and therefore do not thoroughly consider all the facts before signing up for these loans, the fees of which may end up being more than the initial principal.

The initial loan is typically a 14-day loan of no more than $500, though some can exceed this amount. According to the CFPB, these loans carry fees between $10 to $20 for every $100 borrowed.

“A $15 fee, for example, would carry an effective APR of nearly 400% for a 14-day loan,” CNN Money reports.

The CFPB found that over 60 percent of all payday loans are made to individuals who take out 7 or more loans in a row, meaning the accumulated fees end up being more than the initial amount taken out.

“60% of all payday loans are made to individuals who take out 7 or more loans in a row.”@ cfpb

“The bureau found that during a 12-month period, borrowers took out a median of 10 loans,” the Times reports. “Borrowers paid median fees of $458. The median amount borrowed was $350.”

People may recall the Montel Williams commercials for Money Mutual where he makes it sound like short-term loans are the most convenient solution for people who are having money problems and live paycheck to paycheck. Yet, according to the CFPB, these loans are only convenient for people who can pay them back immediately or after no more than one renewal.

For those who can’t, the challenge becomes getting out from under the debt.

“[O]ne Pennsylvania woman who took out a total of $800 in payday loans to help pay for rent after losing her job told the CFPB that she meant for the loan to be only short-term,” the CNN Money article says. “But after rolling over her first loan and eventually taking out another one to help pay for it, she has already paid more than $1,400 towards the debt and still owes more.”

There are currently 35 states that do not have laws regulating short-term lenders. However, even among the states that have made these types of payday loans illegal or have limits in place, lenders have found ways to get around the laws by reclassifying their stores as car-title lenders or using other similar tactics. New rules by the CFPB could make it harder for these companies to get around state regulations and could protect consumers in states that do not currently have these laws.

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Photo Credit: Lori Martin / shutterstock.com

About the Author


Shawn M. Griffiths

Shawn is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas and has been actively involved in grassroots efforts in the state since 2005. His political philosophy is founded on the principles of individual liberty, limited government, and fiscal responsibility. He is not affiliated with any political party, and has great appreciation for intellectual independence and objective truth.

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[…]

Overland Park's AMG Services agrees to record settlement over …

An Overland Park-based online payday lending operation accused of deceiving borrowers by charging inflated fees has agreed to pay federal regulators $21 million, the largest such settlement ever.

Most of the record payout will be returned to borrowers as refunds. AMG Services Inc. of Overland Park and its partner company, MNE Services of Miami, Okla., also will forgive $285 million in unpaid fines and loans still owed by customers, according to the settlement announced Friday by the Federal Trade Commission.

“The settlement requires these companies to turn over millions of dollars that they took from financially distressed consumers, and waive hundreds of millions in other charges,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a prepared statement.

“It should be self-evident,” Rich said, “that payday lenders may not describe their loans as having a certain cost and then turn around and charge consumers substantially more.”

Unexpected fees and higher-than-advertised interest rates often left customers with debts that more than tripled the amounts they had originally borrowed, the FTC alleged in court documents.

The settlement includes no admission of guilt by the companies. Efforts to reach a company attorney late Friday were unsuccessful.

In legal filings, AMG had argued that its affiliation with American Indian tribes should make the company immune to legal action.

It said the tribes’ sovereign status meant they weren’t subject to state or federal laws. A federal magistrate judge disagreed, ruling in 2013 that the lenders had to obey federal consumer protection statutes, even if they were affiliated with tribes. A U.S. District Court judge upheld that ruling last year.

AMG claimed to be owned by the Miami and Modoc tribes of Oklahoma and the Santee Sioux of Nebraska. But the tribes reportedly received only 1 to 2 percent of the revenue from each loan.

The real beneficiary allegedly was race car driver Scott Tucker, who used $40 million collected from borrowers to sponsor his racing team, according to a 2012 complaint filed by the FTC. Tucker has not settled the FTC charges against him. His case is pending before a federal judge in Nevada.

Lawyers for Tucker have previously said the business practices of the tribes were “fully compliant with federal law” and they would contest the allegations.

A growing number of payday lenders have migrated from storefronts to the Internet in recent years in a bid to sidestep state laws designed to curb predatory loans. Some companies exploit ties with tribes to avoid federal regulation, consumer advocates say.

Friday’s record payday loan settlement is significant because it shows that tribal immunity is not working as a business model for payday lenders, said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of the consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG.

“Online payday lenders have tremendous power to reach into consumer bank accounts illegally and take excess fees,” Mierzwinski said. “Fortunately, FTC and the courts rejected this one’s claims of tribal immunity from the law.”

Law enforcement officials across the country have received more than 7,500 consumer complaints about the firms in Friday’s settlement, according to the FTC.

The FTC said the two companies are both part of the same lending operation. The agency said AMG serviced cash advance payday loans offered by MNE on websites using the trade names Ameriloan, United Cash Loans, US Fast Cash, Advantage Cash Services, and Star Cash Processing.

The websites advertised a one-time finance fee and promised that customers could get loans “even with bad credit, slow credit or no credit.”

But the FTC says borrowers were misled about the real annual percentage rate of the loans and didn’t realize they would be charged additional finance fees every time the companies made withdrawals from their bank accounts.

Contracts with borrowers indicated that a $300 loan would cost $390 to repay, for example, when it really cost $975, according to the FTC.

The agency also alleges that the companies illegally made pre-authorized withdrawals from customers’ bank accounts as a condition of credit.

The Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade group for the payday lending industry, issued a statement Friday that distanced the group from the two companies involved in the settlement and expressed support for the FTC’s actions.

“These unscrupulous practices are not representative of the entire payday lending industry nor the online sector of it, and they harm the reputations of (association) members who uphold the highest lending standards in the industry,” the statement said. “More importantly, these bad actors create an even more confusing environment for consumers, making them more susceptible to fraud and abuse.”

AMG previously had reached a partial settlement with the FTC in 2013 over allegations that the company had illegally threatened borrowers with arrest and lawsuits. That settlement prohibited AMG from using such tactics to collect debts.

To reach Lindsay Wise, call 202-383-6007 or send email to lwise@mcclatchydc.com. Twitter: @lindsaywise.

[…]

Sen. Brown proposes alternative to 'payday loans' – 21 News Now …

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COLUMBUS, Ohio –

With millions of Americans turning to payday loans to make ends meet, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown is proposing a short-term cash advance solution.

Low-income workers nationally would be allowed an advance on their income tax refund, rather than turning to payday loans for a quick influx of money, under a proposal U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown made on Wednesday.

The proposal would allow low-income families and individuals to receive a portion of their earned income tax credit, ahead of tax time.

Those who are eligible could receive the early refund without fees or interest on the tax credit up to $500. The amount received early would be deducted from the person’s refund at tax time.

Senator Brown says the bill isn’t designed to help everybody, but those working hard and still receiving a relatively low income.

“The couple of months before they’re eligible to get their tax refund they might have some serious financial problems where they just need a few hundred dollars to be able to tide themselves over until they get their refund, we would advance $500 of this no more than that under our plan,” said Sen. Brown.

Brown said his proposal is an alternative to payday loans, which can carry hidden fees and large interest rates.

“Ohioans shouldn’t be trapped with a lifetime of debt from predatory loans particularly if they have tax refunds waiting for them,” Brown said. “Three-quarters of Americans who turn to costly, high-interest payday loans may have money that they can claim each tax season in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

To participate, workers would enroll in the program through the employers mid-year and request the early payment.

[…]

Kentucky faith leaders push bill to prevent unfair payday loan practices

View article: Kentucky faith leaders push bill to prevent unfair payday loan practices

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“Even,” An Interest-Free, Mobile Alternative To Payday Loans

Image even-app-hand.png

A startup whose first product is a mobile money management application called Even, designed to offer low-income workers interest-free credit to help them make ends meet in between paychecks, has raised $1.5 million in a seed round led by Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures, with participation from other investors. The service is meant to offer hourly, and generally part-time workers an alternative to riskier payday loans and other lending products where debt compounds, making it even more difficult to recover from life’s curveballs.

Other investors in the round included Homebrew, Kevin Systrom, Mike Krieger, Michelle Wilson (former general counsel of Amazon), David Tisch, Adam Rothenberg, Sam Lessin, Slow Ventures, Red Swan, Andrew Fine, Zach Brock, Joe Ziemer, Andrew Kortina (Venmo).

One of the worst injustices about the income inequality situation in the U.S. is just how expensive it is to be poor. Setbacks that others would consider inconveniences can actually ruin your life, explains author Linda Tirado, in her book “Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America,” which details what it’s like to live in poverty as low-wage worker. In one story, she explains how a minor annoyance to most of us – getting her car towed – ultimately cost her both of her jobs, and soon after, her apartment.

Unfortunately, much of the consumer-facing technology emerging from Silicon Valley is focused on serving the needs of the better-off, where just about anything can now be ordered on demand from groceries to black cars to even manservants or just cookies. There’s definitely growth potential in portions of this market, as Uber-watchers could tell you, but the companies that emerge don’t always meet the needs of the many.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 45.3 million live in poverty in the U.S. in 2013. Nearly half of Americans in major cities live in a state of financial insecurity, and many turn to alternative – and often predatory – lending services when times are tough.

Even also reports that there are now 51 million in America who spend an average of $1,000 per year on things you “pretty much get for free at a bank.”

The company’s big idea? To offer consumers interest-free credit that helps them during bad weeks. The way the product works is not at all like payday lenders, though they’re targeting the same market. Customers using Even will authorize the company to manage their money for them. During good weeks, it sets a little money aside on your behalf, then, during the not-so-good weeks, users can tap into credit to pay their bills, or deal with whatever other expenses come up.

The program, available to consumers via a mobile app, is still in pilot testing, meaning a lot of the finer details are still being worked out. However, the end result is that customers receive a steady paycheck of the same amount from week to week, even as they work more hours some weeks, and fewer on other weeks.

The service works with a customer’s own bank account, and offers a number of features including automatic budgeting, help for emergency expenses, and even a “pause” button for when you need to turn off the $5/week charge while you recover from a hardship, like a job loss.

Instead of making it more difficult to pay back the debt, the idea is to be lenient – taking as little as a $1 per week, if need be, while maintaining the customer relationship during the bad times.

“It’s kind of like insurance,” says co-founder Jon Schlossberg. “You pay a flat monthly fee for coverage.”

It’s still expensive to be poor: Even would cost $260/year, but it’s less expensive than getting into trouble with payday lenders. It could also mean that bills and rent get paid on time, which could potentially break the cycle where a single bad break, or a week with reduced hours, can snowball into homelessness.

Citing a U.S. government research study, Schlossberg says he was blown away by learning that 77% of Americans reported they would rather have more consistent income than make more money. A self-admitted “privileged white male,” he realizes that having everything come easy is not the case for most, he says.

“Just wanting money to be there every week is one hardship I’ve never experienced…that’s something that’s kind of hidden from Silicon Valley”

“Just wanting money to be there every week is one hardship I’ve never experienced…that’s something that’s kind of hidden from Silicon Valley,” says Schlossberg. “The problem is income volatility.” What’s increasingly happening, he explains, is that as the workforce shifts towards more flexible labor, part-time workers end up with inconsistent hours. This issue was recently detailed in a New York Times profile of Starbucks barista Jannette Navarro, whose ever-fluctuating hours at the popular coffee chain were due to Starbucks’ reliance on employee scheduling software, designed to boost profits, not make workers’ lives easier.

In addition to its $5 per week consumer-facing service, Even is also selling to enterprise, and has at least one deal in discussions with a large business that you “visit weekly.” (Starbucks?,” I guessed. “No comment.”) With corporate customers, Even could be offered a company benefit – potentially even boosting the bottom line due to the high costs associated with part-time turnover, associated with the shift scheduling issues. (U.S. businesses see 69% turnover for part-timers vs. 23% for full-time workers, excluding seasonal labor, Even reports.).

The company is based in Oakland in order to strategically place itself closer to potential customers. In addition to product designer Schlossberg, previously of Bonobos, its founding team includes designer and engineer, Ryan Gomba previously of Instagram, who worked on the iOS app; Cem Kent, previously of Taykey; and Quinten Farmer, who earlier tried to tackle the student loan problem via The Open Loans Project.

Schlossberg acknowledges that they don’t know if the business model of charging $5/week will work, because there are a still a lot of unknowns the pilot is attempting to figure out like the average credit utilization or how much they’ll lose on defaulted credit. But he does say that the big businesses they’ve talked to so far are “extremely receptive to this product.”

“If we’re right, it’s a win for their company, it’s a win for the employees because their lives are meaningfully improved, and it’s a win for us because it gives us distribution into a market that’s vastly underserved,” says Schlossberg.

Even expects to launch publicly this year, though users can request an invite now.

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Economics Daily Digest: Regulating payday loans, a hopeful look at …

By Rachel Goldfarb, originally published on Next New Deal

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Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti’s proposal to allow the Fed to lend directly to municipalities is one of many ideas you can vote on in the Progress Change Institute’s Big Ideas Project. The top 20 ideas will be presented members of Congress. Voting ends on Sunday, January 11. Click here to vote!

CFPB Sets Sights on Payday Loans (WSJ)

Alan Zibel reports on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s plans to explore creating new rules to regulate predatory payday lending, the first such rules on a federal level.

Consumer-advocacy groups say the loans are deceptive because borrowers often roll them over several times, racking up fees in the process. They also criticize high annual interest rates that can range from less than 200% to more than 500%, depending on the state, according to research by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Early this year, the CFPB plans to convene a panel of small lenders to discuss its payday-loan plans, according to the people familiar with the matter. The bureau, like other federal agencies, is required to consider input from small businesses if regulations being developed are likely to have a significant impact on them.

Follow below the fold for more.

Signs of Economic Promise Are Offering Some Hope for the New Year (NYT)

Rachel Swarns reports on the positive signs that some are seeing, including new jobs for long-term job seekers and raises and more hours for workers at retail chains like Zara.

Don’t Believe What You Hear About the U.S. Economy (AJAM)

Dean Baker says it’s not yet time to celebrate an economic comeback. Growth is still slow enough that the labor market won’t reach pre-recession numbers by the end of 2015.

Why the Democrats Need Labor Again (Politico Magazine)

Timothy Noah interviews Thomas Geoghegan on his new book, which he describes as a “last-ditch effort for the Democrats” to revive the labor movement and win elections.

California Colleges See Surge in Efforts to Unionize Adjunct Faculty (LA Times)

Larry Gordon speaks to adjunct faculty at some of the private colleges in California that are seeing union organizing on campus for the first time.

Austerity’s End Strengthens U.S. Recovery (MSNBC)

Steve Benen corrects Grover Norquist’s attempt to give Republicans credit for economic growth, pointing to small increases in public spending as proof that austerity didn’t fix anything.

The Five Major Things We Screwed Up in Inequality in 2014 (The Guardian)

Suzanne McGee’s list includes the minimum wage, which she says needs a boost at a federal level, and race and economic opportunity, an issue she says we practically ignored.

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