Analysis of Payday Complaints Reveals Need for Stronger Federal Protections

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Consumer complaints about payday loans to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) show a critical need for strengthening the agency’s proposed rule to rein in payday loans and other high-cost lending, according to a report released today by the Illinois PIRG Education Fund.

“Our analysis of written complaints to the CFPB found significant evidence of the major problem with payday loans: borrowers can’t afford these loans and end up trapped in a cycle of debt.  Ninety-one percent (91%) of written complaints were related to unaffordability,” said Abraham Scarr, Director of the Illinois PIRG Education Fund.

Some key findings:

  • Ninety-one percent (91%) of all written explanations showed signs of unaffordability, including abusive debt collection practices, bank account closures, long-term cycles of debt, and bank penalties like overdraft fees because of collection attempts.
  • The database reveals problems with a full spectrum of predatory products and services, including storefronts and online lenders, short-term payday, long-term payday installment loans, and auto title loans.
  • More than half (51%) of the payday complaints were submitted about just 15 companies. The remainder of complaints were spread across 626 companies.
  • The top five most complained about companies in the payday categories were Enova International (doing business as CashNetUSA and NetCredit), Delbert Services, CNG Financial Corporation (doing business as Check ‘n Go), CashCall, and ACE Cash Express.
  • Consumers submitted nearly 10,000 complaints in the payday loan categories of the database in two and a half years. Over 1,600 complaints included written explanations of problem since last March when the CFPB started allowing consumers to share their stories publicly.
  • The two largest types of problems under the payday loan categories were with “communication tactics” and “fees or interest that were not expected.” These two issues made up about 18% of all complaints each.

“This report’s findings illustrate the importance of creating a strong CFPB rule that requires an Ability To Repay determination in every case so that consumers will not become trapped in debt,” said Dory Rand, President of Woodstock Institute

Payday lenders offer short-term high-cost loans at interest rates averaging 391% APR in the 36 states that allow them and a short period of time to pay them back. Far too many borrowers can’t afford these rates but are given the loans anyway — which sets them up to take out multiple loans after the first one and fall into a debt trap. The lender holds an uncashed check as collateral.  Increasing lenders are also making installment loans and loans using car titles as collateral. According to CFPB research, payday lenders make 75% of their fees from borrowers stuck in more than 10 loans a year. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia effectively ban payday loans by subjecting them to low usury ceilings.

“Payday loans harm many Illinois residents that are already financially vulnerable,” said Jody Blaylock, Senior Policy Associate at Heartland Alliance and the Illinois Asset Building Group. “In addition to strong rules from the CFPB, state policymakers should take action to cap interest rates on payday and title loans and support alternative, safe, small dollar lending.”

In June, the CFPB proposed a rule that takes an historic step by requiring, for the first time, that payday, auto title, and other high-cost installment lenders determine whether customers can afford to repay loans with enough money left over to cover normal expenses without re-borrowing. However, as currently proposed, payday lenders will be exempt from this ability-to-repay requirement for up to six loans a year per customer.

“To truly protect consumers from the debt trap, it will be important for the CFPB to close exceptions and loopholes like this one in what is otherwise a well-thought-out proposal. We encourage the public to submit comments by October 7th to the CFPB about strengthening the rule before it is finalized,” Scarr said.