The Evolution and Economics Behind Payday Loans

Americans are increasingly being financially pinched in our modern profit driven economy. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the profit motive is a natural solution to many problems and that American capitalism has been a great engine that has lead our country to worldwide economic dominance over the past 100 years. Nothing is perfect, but the American model has been, in my opinion, as good as it gets. As we move away from an industrial base and towards a service based economy, and as farms and ranches consolidate and move into the hands of fewer but more economically strong people, and as business’ grow larger and have fewer competitors, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow.

In the financial industry this was the case as well, when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I could go to a bank and get a short term loan. There were many banks and a lot of competition who served the large middle class. By the 1990’s, as the middle class shrunk and the lower-middle class grew, the traditional banks had moved away from small dollar, short term lending. This change was largely due to the high cost of servicing these loans as compared with profit made. The banks made a simple business decision to cease short term lending. At the same time the banks made another business decision to improve profits, after all isn’t that what capitalism is all about in the first place? The banks decided to greatly increase the cost of bounced checks, overdraft protection fees and late payment penalties. Instead of providing short term credit to Americans, they decided to profit from the lack of it. Today more than ever, a large percentage of bank profits are made through fees and penalties. Again, I can’t blame the banks for making the decisions they did, the decisions were based on the profit motive, and it is not necessarily the duty of banks to provide credit to everyone.

Every business I have ever associated with has a profit motive, most of them would be glad to charge you whatever the market will bear for their products or services. Luckily, American Capitalism is about supply, demand, and competition. So when a company starts to charge too much for a product, another company comes in and says we can make some good money providing that service for that same price or less, this is what has historically kept prices in check. When the traditional banks limited the availability of short term credit and increased fees and penalties, a demand was created for short term lending, One day in the early 1990’s the first payday loan business opened in response to that demand. There goes that free market again!

The payday loan industry is now regulated in most states; the state regulations limit the amount of the fees and many other aspects of how much or how often a customer can get a short term cash advance. These regulations are good because they protect the customer while at the same time preserving the customers’ access to short term credit. Critics of the payday loan industry tend to use APR’s (annual percentage rates) as a way to explain their position as to why they think payday loans are so expensive.