Warning

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is warning consumers to exercise extreme caution when using Internet payday loan sites, where loans due by the next payday, can cost up to $30 per $100 borrowed and borrowers typically face annual interest rates (APRs) of 650%.According to a CFA survey of one hundred Internet payday loan sites, small loans involving electronic access to consumers’ checking accounts pose high risks to consumers who borrow money by transmitting personal financial information via the Internet.

“Internet payday loans cost up to $30 per $100 borrowed and must be repaid or refinanced by the borrower’s next payday,” said Jean Ann Fox, CFA’s director of consumer protection. “If payday is in two weeks, a $500 loan costs $150, and $650 will be electronically withdrawn from the borrower’s checking account.”

Many surveyed lenders automatically renew loans by electronically withdrawing the finance charge from the consumer’s checking account every payday. If consumers fail to have enough money on deposit to cover the finance charge or repayment, both the payday lender and the bank will impose insufficient funds fees.

Online payday loans are marketed through e-mail, online search, paid ads, and referrals. Typically, a consumer fills out an online application form or faxes a completed application that requests personal information, bank account numbers, Social Security Numbers and employer information. Borrowers fax copies of a check, a recent bank statement, and signed paperwork. The loan is direct deposited into the consumer’s checking account and loan payment or the finance charge is electronically withdrawn on the borrower’s next payday.

“Internet payday loans are dangerous for cash-strapped consumers,” stated Ms. Fox. “They combine the high costs and collection risks of check-based payday loans with security risks of sending bank account numbers and Social Security Numbers over web links to unknown lenders.”

CFA’s survey of 100 Internet payday loan sites showed that loans from $200 to $2,500 were available, with $500 the most frequently offered. Finance charges ranged from $10 per $100 up to $30 per $100 borrowed. The most frequent rate was $25 per $100, or 650% annual interest rate (APR) if the loan is repaid in two weeks. Typically loans are due on the borrower’s next payday which can be a shorter term.

Only 38 sites disclosed the annual interest rates for loans prior to customers completing the application process, while 57 sites quoted the finance charge. The most frequently posted APR was 652%, followed by 780%.

Although loans are due on the borrower’s next payday, many surveyed sites automatically renew the loan, withdrawing the finance charge from the borrower’s bank account and extending the loan for another pay cycle. Sixty-five of the surveyed sites permit loan renewals with no reduction in principal. At some lenders, consumers have to take additional steps to actually repay the loan. After several renewals, some lenders require borrowers to reduce the loan principal with each renewal.

Contracts from Internet payday lenders include a range of one-sided terms, such as mandatory arbitration clauses, agreements not to participate in class action lawsuits, and agreements not to file for bankruptcy. Some lenders require applicants to agree to keep their bank accounts open until loans are repaid. Others ask for “voluntary” wage assignments even in states where wage assignments are not legal.

Alternatives to Payday Loans

  1. Consider a small loan from your credit union or a small loan company. Some banks may offer short-term loans for small amounts at competitive rates. A local community-based organization may make small business loans to people. A cash advance on a credit card also may be possible, but it may have a higher interest rate than other sources of funds: find out the terms before you decide. In any case, shop first and compare all available offers.
  2. Shop for the credit offer with the lowest cost. Compare the APR and the finance charge, which includes loan fees, interest and other credit costs. You are looking for the lowest APR. Military personnel have special protections against super-high fees or rates, and all consumers in some states and the District of Columbia have some protections dealing with limits on rates. Even with these protections, payday loans can be expensive, particularly if you roll-over the loan and are responsible for paying additional fees. Other credit offers may come with lower rates and costs.
  3. Contact your creditors or loan servicer as quickly as possible if you are having trouble with your payments, and ask for more time. Many may be willing to work with consumers who they believe are acting in good faith. They may offer an extension on your bills; make sure to find out what the charges would be for that service — a late charge, an additional finance charge, or a higher interest rate.
  4. Contact your local consumer credit counseling service if you need help working out a debt repayment plan with creditors or developing a budget. Non-profit groups in every state offer credit guidance to consumers for no or low cost. You may want to check with your employer, credit union, or housing authority for no- or low-cost credit counseling programs, too.
  5. Make a realistic budget,including your monthly and daily expenditures, and plan, plan, plan. Try to avoid unnecessary purchases: the costs of small, every-day items like a cup of coffee add up. At the same time, try to build some savings: small deposits do help. A savings plan — however modest — can help you avoid borrowing for emergencies. Saving the fee on a $300 payday loan for six months, for example, can help you create a buffer against financial emergencies.
  6. Find out if you have — or if your bank will offer you — overdraft protection on your checking account. If you are using most or all the funds in your account regularly and you make a mistake in your account records, overdraft protection can help protect you from further credit problems. Find out the terms of the overdraft protection available to you — both what it costs and what it covers. Some banks offer “bounce protection,” which may cover individual overdrafts from checks or electronic withdrawals, generally for a fee. It can be costly, and may not guarantee that the bank automatically will pay the overdraft.

The bottom line on payday loans: Try to find an alternative. If you must use one, try to limit the amount. Borrow only as much as you can afford to pay with your next paycheck — and still have enough to make it to next payday.

Protections for Military Consumers

Payday loans (and certain other financing) offered to servicemembers and their dependents must include certain protections, under Federal law and a Department of Defense rule. For example, for payday loans offered after October 1, 2007, the military annual percentage rate cannot exceed 36%. Most fees and charges, with few exceptions, are included in the rate. Creditors also may not, for example, require use of a check or access to a bank account for the loan, mandatory arbitration, and unreasonable legal notices. Military consumers also must be given certain disclosures about the loan costs and your rights. Credit agreements that violate the protections are void. Creditors that offer payday loans may ask loan applicants to sign a statement about their military affiliation.

Even with these protections, payday loans can be costly, especially if you roll-over the loan. You instead may be able to obtain financial assistance from military aid societies, such as the Army Emergency Relief, Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, Air Force Aid Society, or Coast Guard Mutual Aid. You may be able to borrow from families or friends, or get an advance on your paycheck from your employer. If you still need credit, loans from a credit union, bank, or a small loan company may offer you lower rates and costs. They may have special offers for military applicants, and may help you start a savings account. A cash advance on your credit card may be possible, but it could be costly. Find out the terms for any credit before you sign. You may request free legal advice about a credit application from a service legal assistance office, or financial counseling from a consumer credit counselor, including about deferring your payments. Military consumers can contact the Department of Defense, toll-free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-800-342-9647, or at www.militaryonesource.com. Information on the Department of Defense rule, alternatives to payday loans, financial planning, and other guidance is available.

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Useful contacts

Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov)
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2972
202-326-3480
1-877-FTC-HELP

USA GOV (http://www.usa.gov)
1-800-FED-INFO (333-4636)

Department of Financial Institutions  (http://dfi.wa.gov)
1.877.RING DFI (746-4334) – license verification