Many payday lenders steer borrowers to higher-cost repayment options, consumer watchdog says

Personal finance

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Most payday loan borrowers aren’t using the lowest-cost repayment option in states where it’s available, perpetuating a cycle of high fees and debt, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Wednesday in a report.

In some cases, payday lenders have withheld information about these “no-cost extended repayment plans” from borrowers to generate more revenue, the federal agency claimed.

The Dodd-Frank Act established the CFPB in the wake of the Great Recession to protect consumers from unfair, abusive and deceptive financial practices.

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“Our research suggests that state laws that require payday lenders to offer no-cost extended repayment plans are not working as intended,” Rohit Chopra, the bureau’s director, said in a written statement. “Payday lenders have a powerful incentive to protect their revenue by steering borrowers into costly re-borrowing.”

The Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade group that represents payday lenders, didn’t return a request for comment by press time.

Payday loans are generally short-term, high-cost loans due in a single payment on a borrower’s next payday.

Such lending is allowed in 26 states and more than 12 million people borrow each year, according to the CFPB.

Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Alex Edelman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The median payday loan is about $350 and the typical fee amounts to an average interest rate of 391%, according to the CFPB.

Those who can’t repay on time can pay a fee to extend their due date via a “rollover.” The rollover fee doesn’t count toward the loan’s principal. Rollovers can serve to keep payday borrowers in debt, the CFPB said.

Sixteen states require lenders to offer “no-cost extended payment plans” as an alternative, the CFPB said. These plans let borrowers repay their loan in multiple installments rather than in a single payment, the CFPB said.

Here’s a comparison of the two types of repayment options from the CFPB: Someone who borrows a typical $300 loan would pay $45 every two weeks to roll over the loan; after four months, they’d have paid $360 in rollover fees and still owe the original $300. If the same person initially chooses the no-cost payment plan, they’d pay a total $345 over that period.

But these payment plans are little used in states where they’re available, according to the report, which the CFPB believes is the first to compare usage among states.

For example, usage rates range from less than 1% percent of borrowers in Florida to 13.4% in Washington state, the report found.

“Despite the prevalence of state laws providing for no-cost extended payment plans, data show that rollover and default rates consistently exceed extended payment plan usage rates,” the agency wrote. “The Bureau has observed that monetary incentives encourage lenders to promote higher-cost rollovers at the expense of extended payment plans.”

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