How Payday Loans Work

Payday loans are short-term cash loans based on the borrower's personal check held for future deposit or on electronic access to the borrower's bank account. Borrowers write a personal check for the amount borrowed plus the finance charge and receive cash. In some cases, borrowers sign over electronic access to their bank accounts to receive and repay payday loans.

Lenders hold the checks until the borrower’s next payday when loans and the finance charge must be paid in one lump sum. To pay a loan, borrowers can redeem the check by paying the loan with cash, allow the check to be deposited at the bank, or just pay the finance charge to roll the loan over for another pay period. Some payday lenders also offer longer-term payday instalment loans and request authorization to electronically withdraw multiple payments from the borrower’s bank account, typically due on each pay date. Payday loans range in size from $100 to $1,000, depending on state legal maximums. The average loan term is about two weeks. Loans typically cost 400% annual interest (APR) or more. The finance charge ranges from $15 to $30 to borrow $100. For two-week loans, these finance charges result in interest rates from 390 to 780% APR. Shorter term loans have even higher APRs.  Rates are higher in states that do not cap the maximum cost.

Requirements to Get a Payday Loan

All a consumer needs to get a payday loan is an open bank account in relatively good standing, a steady source of income, and identification. Lenders do not conduct a full credit check or ask questions to determine if a borrower can afford to repay the loan.  Since loans are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, not the borrower’s ability to repay while meeting other financial obligations, payday loans create a debt trap.

CFPB found that 80 percent of payday borrowers tracked over ten months rolled over or reborrowed loans within 30 days.  Borrowers default on one in five payday loans.  Online borrowers fare worse.  CFPB found that more than half of all online payday instalment loan sequences default.

Payday Lenders

Payday loans are made by payday loan stores,  or at stores that sell other financial services, such as check cashing, title loans, rent-to-own and pawn, depending on state licensing requirements. Loans are made via websites and mobile devices.  CFPB found 15,766 payday loan stores operating  in 2015.

Legal Status for Payday Lending

High cost payday lending is authorized by state laws or regulations in thirty-two states. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia protect their borrowers from high-cost payday lending with reasonable small loan rate caps or other prohibitions. Three states set lower rate caps or longer terms for somewhat less expensive loans.  Online payday lenders are generally subject to the state licensing laws and rate caps of the state where the borrower receives the loan.  For more information, click on Legal Status of Payday Loans by State.

Protections for Service Members and Dependents

Payday loans are not permitted for active-duty service members and their dependents.  Federal protections under the Military Lending Act (MLA) for service members and their families took effect October 1, 2007 and were expanded October 3, 2016. Department of Defense ruless apply to loans subject to the federal Truth in Lending Act, including payday and title loans.. Lenders are prohibited from charging more than 36 percent annual interest including fees; taking a check, debit authorization or car title to secure loans; and using mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts for covered loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enforces the MLA rules. To file a complaint, click here. See: CFA press release on revised MLA rules