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Pay Day Loans Have Equally Bad Financial Friends

Pay day loan shops (and cash checking and other similar short term loan shops) are often singled out as places that prey on consumers in a tight spot. While I don’t dispute that, I want to point out other places that also prey on consumers in a tight spot that don’t often get the spotlight.

Pay Day Loans Are Bad

Don’t get me wrong, pay day loans are horrible products for consumers because of their high fees, high interest rates, and their propensity to become financial sinkholes. It’s the financial version of someone going in for a routine cavity filling and coming out with a lobotomy. You just need a little extra help to get you to the next pay day but end up paying for years. According to this warning by the FTC [3], they give an example in which “the cost of the initial loan is a $15 finance charge and 391 percent APR. If you roll-over the loan three times [42 calendar days], the finance charge would climb to $60 to borrow $100.” $15 to start and 391% APR is horrible but let’s compare to some of these other products.

Refund Anticipation Loans

Refund anticipation loans, tax rebate loans, assisted refund loans, etc. are horrible horrible, don’t ever get a refund anticipation loan [4]. These products are often highlighted as preying on consumers but I felt they should be mentioned anyway. Given the fervor over pay day loans, you’d think a loan with a $30 activation fee, $20 check processing fee, and a 36% APR would get a little more heat than it does. $50 to start plus 36% APR on funds that are guaranteed (if the tax preparer does their job right) by the IRS… seems a little rougher than the pay day loans, which are loans on funds that are not guaranteed.

Bank Fees

According to Bankrate’s 2007 bank study [5], bank fees are on the rise. Big time. A bounced check will cost you $28.23, average ATM surcharge will run you $1.78, and the average monthly service fee on a checking account was $11.72 (don’t ever pay a fee for a checking account [6]). You’d think that they were lending you money given those fee values! I can understand the headache of a bounced check but let’s get real here, bounced checks never come alone. In fact, considering banks withdraw the largest amounts first, you’re more likely to see multiple bounces than a single bounce.

Credit Card Fees

Again, credit card companies have come under heat too but it still bears highlighting that they’re practices are closer to pay day loans than they are to the Fed. If you make your payment late, most places will charge you somewhere between $20 and $30, with the bias towards $30. Interest rates? High, plus companies have been mailing out letters notifying people that their rates have gone up for no reason. I’ll leave it at that since the credit card industry does take a lot of heat for their practices.

So as you can see, pay day loans are horrible but there are a lot of other horrible and more mainstream products out there that simply don’t get the same exposure. Bouncing a check is like missing a payment which is like taking out a pay day loan, in terms of cost, but at least with a pay day loan you get something out of it (a horrible horrible loan!).