A "payday loan" is a short-term loan made for seven to 30 days for a small amount. Fees charged on payday loans generally range from $15 to $30 on each $100 advanced. A typical example would be that in exchange for a $300 advance until the next payday, the borrower writes a post-dated check for $300 and receives $255 in cash -- the lender taking a $45 fee off the top. The lender then holds on to the check until the following payday, before depositing it in its own account. When the fee for a short-term payday loan is translated into an annual percentage rate, the implied annual interest rate ranges between 400 and 1000 percent. Virtually no payday loan outlets existed 15 years ago; today, there are more payday loan and check cashing stores nationwide than there are McDonald's, Burger King, Sears, J.C. Penney, and Target stores combined. For economists, several interesting issues arise in the study of payday loans: Is this just a situation in which willing customers and firms interact in the market for ready access to high-cost, short-term credit? Or does the payday loan industry encourage habitual borrowing and the snowballing of unaffordable debt in such a way that the state has a role to play in limiting consumers from their own excesses? Would a ban or overly restrictive regulations on payday lending just revive the market for loan-sharking? And what of a similar practice by mainstream banks, who regularly allow their customers to overdraw their checking accounts if they pay a fee comparable in size to a payday loan charge?
Journal of Economic Perspectives,