Brigham Young University Journal of Public Law


Rex E. Lee


“Why hasn’t someone else stepped in to lend at lower interest rates?” is the question frequently asked in discussions of payday loans. The average payday loan carries an Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of over 300%. Given the strength of th e payday lenders lobby at the federal and state level, one way to help low- and moderate-income households escape the financial harms of pa yday loans is to encourage other lenders to enter the small-dollar loan market and offer more affordable products. Over the past ten years, an array of affordable small-dollar loan programs offered by banks, credit unions, non-profit organizations, and for-profit fintech compan ies have entered the market to provide borrowers with alternatives to payday loans. These lenders are offering small-dollar loans at rates and on terms that are more manageable for low- and moderate-income consumers than payday loans, while maintaining the features of payday loans that consumers like—namely quick and easy access to credit. This paper w ill desc ribe these affordable small-dollar loan programs and explain what is needed from regulators, financial institutions and foundations, and consumer advocates for the programs to serve more borrowers and take over more of the market space curren tly occupied by payday lenders. Banks, with support from t he ir regulators, can offer affordable small-dollar loans to their customers and should continue to provide low-in terest loan capital to non-profit small-dollar lenders. Credit unions can continue to offer small-dollar loan programs like the Payday Alte rnative Loan product and the Employer Sponsored Small-Dollar Loan product and should be encouraged to do so by their regulators. Non-profit organizations can continue to offer affordable loans in partnership with employers or other lenders and should be provided with grants and low-interest loan capital and pro-bono support from la wyers and marketing companies. For-profit, fintech lenders can continue to enter this space and should be supported by consumer advocates and regulators as long as their products meet certain guidelines: compliance with all federal and state laws, affordable payments, and features such as credit bureau reporting, transparent fees, and flexible repayment terms. Finally, recent efforts in Congress to encourage the U. S. Postal Service to offer affordable small-dollar loans should also be supported. The short-term small-dollar credit needs of low- and moderateincome households should not be met primarily by payday lenders whose high fees and short repayment terms too often trap borrowers in a cycle of debt. Low-and moderate-income consumers deserve better options. With support, the affordable small-dollar loan programs described in this paper can be expanded to make the market for smalldollar credit more competitive, helping borrowers across the country.


© 2019 BYU J. Reuben Clark Law School