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Payday Loans are the World's Most Expensive Cash

If someone told you that they would lend you $500 today if you repaid them with $5000 a year from now, would you take it? What if the repayment amount were only $2500? Would that strike you as a good deal? This may sound like an insane amount to repay on a small loan, but that, in effect, is what thousands of consumers do every day when they take out a payday loan. Payday loans, also known as cash advance or quick cash loans, are short term loans that typically last about two weeks. In exchange for borrowing relatively small sums ranging from $100-500, the borrower pays a fee that can range from $10-40 per $100 borrowed for the two-week loan. The borrower writes a postdated check for the borrowed sum plus the fee, which the lender may cash two weeks later. These fees may seem relatively small, but when viewed as an annual percentage rate, they actually amount to anywhere between 250-1000% per year. That's an astronomical amount of interest in a world where a credit card loan at 25% is considered to be high.

And yet, the payday loan business is thriving and there are now some 23,000 stores in America that offer some form of these cash advance loans. Why do people take out such loans? The primary reasons are convenience and a lack of better alternatives. These stores are now so common that there are often several of them on a single block. They don't do credit checks and they will lend money to pretty much anyone with a steady job. And the borrowers tend to be people who do not have access to other borrowing options, such as credit cards, friends with money or a local credit union that offers short term loans.

Defenders of these financial products say that they are simply offering a product that the public wants. That may very well be true, as these businesses are doing very well. What remains to be answered is whether the public really wants to borrow money at 500% per year. In all likelihood, they are doing so only because they cannot find a less expensive option. Anyone who needs a short term loan is more than welcome to go to a payday loan store to get one. But any potential borrowers should realize that they making use of one of the world's most expensive forms of lending.


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