Abhi Sivasailam
The Springfield News-Leader today features a good op-ed about current plans for regulating Missouri's payday loan industry.

Good bit:
The FDIC found that payday loan fees were justified by the costs and risks associated with offering such loans. The FDIC also found competitive products like bounced checks carrying APRs of up to 3,500 percent.That APR calculation - designed to compare competing, long-term forms of credit - is why a 36 percent APR cap, as proposed in current Missouri legislation, would ban short- term loans in the state.

If imposed, a 36 percent rate cap would mean lenders could only charge about $1.38 per $100 borrowed. At such a low rate, lenders simply can't cover their costs - such as rent, employee salaries and benefits.

As I've written before, I'm opposed to payday loan regulation because:

  1. I view payday loan transactions as legitimate, consensual business interactions between relatively rational actors.

  2. The empirical evidence suggests that payday loans constitute a useful service. I look, for example, to Donald Morgan and Michael Strain, who show that increased access to payday loans reduces the volume of bounced checks. I also look to Edward Lawrence and Gregory Elliehausen, who find that payday loans "satisfy a real financial need within a certain segment of the population." As I cite these authors, I'm fully willing to concede that there is literature out there that disagrees with their claims. The reading list I composed earlier lists some of those papers. In a future blog post, I will attempt a more detailed comparison of the methodologies employed in the different studies.

  3. If payday loans are useful, then limiting or eliminating the payday loan market will drive consumers to underground or black markets. This is not favorable, for reasons that should be self-evident.

  4. I think the most legitimate critique of payday loans is that it disadvantages the politically weak who have, for example, little access to legal recourse. If that's the case, the better solution would be to reform the political/legal apparatus, rather than the payday loan market. Opponents can argue that this is less feasible, and they would be correct, but if the market is driven underground, then these people would have no legal recourse anyway.

My main concern now is the third. Those who seek to regulate payday loans toe a narrow line between tempering the market and hobbling it. Unfortunately, it looks as though the proposed reforms are poised to do the latter.

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Abhi Sivasailam