For years, the word most closely associated with payday loans has been predatory. These loans have been derided not just for how expensive they are, or how they tend to push borrowers into a series of recurring loans, but also because of who they target: poor and minority consumers who have few other banking options. New regulations released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this month will seriously curb the supply of the most dangerous and well-known versions of payday loans: small in amount, high in fees, with repayment periods of only a few weeks.
But the regulations will do little to address the other side of the problem: consumers’ demand for small, fast, easy-to-obtain loans. Solving that problem, while ensuring that new predatory loans options don’t pop up, will fall to the financial industry and state legislators—who’ve struggled in the past to protect financially vulnerable Americans.
The new CFPB payday rules focus on payday and auto-title loans that require repayment in less 45 days or less. Among the stipulations, the regulations require lenders making such loans to assess a borrower’s ability to repay (based on factors such as income and housing costs), set limits on how many times a borrower can rollover a loan, and prevent lenders from continually trying to automatically debit from a borrower’s account. Together, the rules will help curb some of the most abusive and dangerous practices when it comes to small, very short-term loans. But what they don’t do is create new or safer products to take their place—nor do they force financial institutions to do so. And that means that the millions of Americans who use traditional payday loans will now have to turn to other, potentially dubious sources.