We told you so – payday loan bans backfire

The 2007 Oregon legislature capped interest rates on payday loans, effectively putting the lenders out of business. What happens now to those who relied on those loans? While it’s too early to know for sure in Oregon, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently released a study about two other states that banned such loans in 2004 and 2005. The conclusions, although preliminary, are just another example of how paternalistic laws aimed at helping the poor often do just the opposite.

Oregon legislators ignored advice and research offered by Cascade Policy Institute and others to the effect that high-interest payday loans often represent the best of some not-so-good alternatives for many people.

Instead, lawmakers seemed to agree with those “advocates for the poor” who argued that payday lenders were like birds of prey, swooping down on hapless borrowers and sucking them into cycles of debt and dependency.

The new 44-page
by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York makes for interesting reading. Here is the abstract:

Payday loans are widely condemned as a “predatory debt trap.” We test that claim by researching how households in Georgia and North Carolina have fared since those states banned payday loans in May 2004 and December 2005. Compared with households in all other states, households in Georgia have bounced more checks, complained more to the Federal Trade Commission about lenders and debt collectors, and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection at a higher rate. North Carolina households have fared about the same.

This negative correlation””reduced payday credit supply, increased credit problems””contradicts the debt trap critique of payday lending, but is consistent with the hypothesis that payday credit is preferable to substitutes such as the bounced-check “protection” sold by credit unions and banks or loans from pawnshops.

So, we now know how other states fared when “advocates for the poor” had their economically unenlightened way. It’s not that satisfying to say “we told you so,” but it seems likely that this will also be the outcome in Oregon.

How sad, that in our zeal to “help the poor” we end up hurting them even more.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.