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Payday Loans - are They a Ripoff?

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If you have no access to credit and need a quick loan, you may consider a payday loan. The idea sounds attractive: the lender deposits up to $2,000 into your bank account and the loan is automatically repaid from your next paycheck. You don't need collateral and there's no credit check.

But before you walk into the payday loan office, do your homework. Here are some crucial facts you need to know.

  1. What is a payday loan? According to the U.S. government, a payday loan is defined as a closed-end credit transaction, unsecured by any interest in the consumer's personal property and excluding any credit card transaction under an open end consumer credit plan, with a term of 91 or fewer days in which the amount financed does not exceed $2,000 with a finance charge exceeding an annual percentage rate of 36%. In other words: short-term, high-interest.

    To ensure repayment, the lender will require that you present a personal check for the total amount borrowed plus fees, or that you sign over legal access to your bank account for the total amount due. Your check is post-dated to your next payday. On that day the lender will cash the check or debit your bank account. This gives the lender an automatic repayment mechanism and the legal right to collect.

  2. Are payday loans legal everywhere? No! Payday loans are regulated by individual states. In some states they are illegal.

    They are also illegal for members of the U.S. military. One of the provisions of the FY 2007 Military Authorization Act makes it against the law for lenders to make payday loans and/or car title loans to military personnel. Lenders are also prohibited from charging more than 36% interest to military borrowers. When calculating the interest rate, additional renewal charges, fees, service charges, or credit insurance premiums must be included.

  3. What are the interest rates for payday loans? Very high! Why? Because the lender typically requires only that you have a job and a bank account for the past sixty days. Payday loans are most often made to people who have poor credit and no collateral. These high-risk borrowers pay interest rates that can be as high as 600% APR.

    What does that mean? Here's a typical payday loan breakdown:

    • Loan amount: $1,500
    • Your next payday: 14 days from today
    • Fee per $100 borrowed: $20
    • Your effective APR: 521.43%
    • Total fees you pay: $300
    • Total debited from your account 14 days from now: $1,800

    Fourteen days after advancing you the loan for $1,500, the lender will debit $1,800 from your bank account. If for some reason the full amount isn't there, you must still pay the $300 fee for that 14-day period. You will pay $300 every two weeks until you repay the original $1,500. When you receive your next paycheck 14 days later, you will owe $1,800. That means that if you miss the first repayment deadline, you will end up paying a total of $2,100.

  4. Are payday loans controversial? Yes! In many states they are considered usurious and are illegal. But attempts to regulate payday loans are receiving mixed responses. Congress is now considering the Payday Loan Reform Act of 2009 (HR 1214 IH). This bill would ostensibly regulate payday loans, but consumer protection groups are opposed. In a recent letter to U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, the bill's sponsor, several groups including the National Consumer Law Center assert that H.R. 1214 gives Congressional authorization for single-payment loans of 780 percent APR for one week or 390 percent APR for two weeks. The mandated loan fee limit of fifteen cents per dollar loaned sounds reasonable, but it permits lenders to charge $75 for a typical $500 loan, which is due on the following payday. For the average customer who takes out nine loans per year, H.R. 1214 permits lenders to collect $675 in finance charges for a $500 loan taken out over an eighteen weeks.

    Imagine paying more in finance charges than the loan amount! Before you consider a payday loan, do the research and ask yourself if it's really the best choice for you.