BBB Warns of the Pitfalls of Payday Loans

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Short on cash for the holidays? Think twice before considering a payday loan.

Some payday loans carry interest rates as much as 400% to 700% and may not allow early pay offs.

Consumers who have financial trouble during the holidays may be enticed to bridge the gap between paychecks by obtaining a payday loan. Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Eastern Michigan is warning consumers to be cautious, as these loans typically have very high fees and interest rates as well as questionable sales and collection tactics that confuse and intimidate borrowers.

Payday loans are loans of short duration, usually two weeks, and can be obtained from a physical payday loan store or on the internet. Better Business Bureau receives hundreds of complaints against payday loan companies alleging threats of arrest and notifications to employers about their debt. Complaints also state that consumers who apply for loans online, may not see the full disclosure of interest rates or fees until after they have signed the documents and that there are unauthorized withdrawals from their bank accounts.

Typically, payday lenders do not perform a credit check but ask borrowers to write them a post-dated check for the amount they borrow plus a borrowing and account set-up fee. The lenders will then deposit the check after the borrower’s payday if they have not already paid off the loan. If the borrower’s bank account cannot cover the amount of the loan, they will then owe the original loan plus added interest and they may also incur overdraft fees from their bank. Borrowers can chose to pay more fees to renew the loan if they know they cannot pay it off in time. This practice creates a cycle of consumer refinancing and continuous debt.

Payday loans are regulated in Michigan in most cases. For example, a payday lender can only have one outstanding payday loan per customer for a loan amount of up to $600. A customer may take out a second loan with a different payday lender, and can only have two outstanding payday loans at any given time. The payday lender may charge up to 15% on the first $100, 14% on the second $100, 13% on the third $100, 12% on the fourth $100, and 11% on the fifth and sixth $100.

Consumers should be aware that some payday loan companies, such as those operated by Native American tribes, may have tribal sovereign immunity from laws that govern other lenders. These loans often carry interest rates as much as 400% to 700% and may not allow early pay offs, resulting in a cycle of perpetual debt for the borrower. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently released a report that analyzed payday lending and found that four out of five payday loans are rolled over or renewed within 14 days.

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 high fees or rates, and all consumers in some states and the District of Columbia have some protections dealing with limits on rates. Other credit offers may come with lower rates and costs.

3. Contact your creditors 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.

Collection activities are subject to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Therefore, if you have questions regarding debt collection laws please contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC HELP, or online at http://www.ftc.gov. Debt collectors cannot state or imply that failure to pay a debt is a crime.

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Lisa Dilg
CBBB
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