Why a payday loan costs the amount it does

The Payday Pundit blog has a good catch with this excerpt from an article in The Atlantic magazine by Megan McArdle:

“Credit unions are not charities.  They have responsibilities to the members who deposit money with them: they cannot make loans that are reasonably likely to lose money (at least in aggregate).  And while the interest rates on products like payday loans are indeed eye-popping, the companies themselves are not especially profitable.  This suggests that the reason the loans are so expensive is that they cost a lot to make.


Why is this?  For starters, because the risk of default is very high.  It’s hard to get good numbers, and estimates vary widely, but I’m pretty sure that they’re well north of 10%.  That’s a pretty high default rate for any type of loan, but particularly one where the term is measured in weeks.


That’s not the only reason to think that these loans are expensive.  Since they are often for very small amounts, they have high transaction costs relative to the loan amount–it takes just as much time to process forms for a $200 loan as it does for a $10,000 loan.


There’s also the structure of the loan, which involves a lot of intensive interaction with the borrower.  Remember, the short term (and the fact that they’re tied to payday) helps hold down the default costs on payday loans.  It’s also really expensive to achieve; it means maintaining a storefront with people in it at all hours.


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