The Community Financial Services Association of America, the national trade association for payday lenders, is planning to spend $10 million for an advertising campaign that it says is intended to educate people on how to use payday loans wisely.
Payday loans are small loans that a borrower promises to repay out of his or her next paycheck, typically in two weeks. A $100 loan might carry a fee of $15.
Consumer advocacy groups are highly critical of these loans because when the fees are annualized, they often amount to triple-digit interest rates - even more than 1,000 percent in some cases. The groups argue that the loans take advantage of cash-strapped consumers.
Payday lenders were banned from Georgia in 2004, although lawmakers there are considering letting them back in. Other state legislatures are considering restrictions on payday loans. Last year Congress passed a law forcing the industry to cap at 36 percent the annual interest rates on loans to military service members and their dependents.
Industry executives say their multimillion-dollar campaign is not an image booster. Rather, they call it an effort to encourage consumers to use payday advances in a responsible manner.
In fact, to show its commitment to helping people, the trade group is asking members to voluntarily implement new practices. The most notable is an extended payment plan for those borrowers who cannot immediately pay back their loan. At no cost, borrowers would be allowed to repay the loan over four pay periods.
Using a credit card to buy things you can't pay off the next month is bad enough, but to borrow against your next paycheck is the very definition of irresponsibility. It's an incredibly unwise financial move.
Unbelievably, several minority groups have partnered with CFSA to promote financial literacy. Why would they do this, I wondered, especially when so many payday storefronts are in economically depressed minority neighborhoods?
Well, it turns out there's money in it for the minority groups.
CFSA is giving about $2 million to fund financial literacy programs for two groups, according to its spokesman, Steven Schlein.
The trade association is partnering with the National Conference of Black Mayors to conduct summits "to teach young people the importance of building a solid financial future." I certainly hope it's a future that never involves a payday loan.
CFSA also is teaming up with the National Black Caucus of States Institute. As the trade group says in its release, the partnership will "educate African-American legislators and community leaders on critical issues regarding consumer credit, and provide community volunteers with resources they need to educate consumers in their communities on how to become credit savvy."
Clearly, the savvier one is the payday industry.
What better way to try to fend off regulation than to partner with minority groups supposedly looking out for the very people their opponents say the industry is taking advantage of.
But the payday lenders are right about one thing: They are providing a service the people want. Just last month 15 million people took out payday loans.
But, you know, not every bargain is a good buy.