Manitoba’s Judgment of Payday Loans Ignores Reason, Commerce

A Reasonable Argument, Rebuffed With Extreme Prejudice

Payday loans are heavily regulated in the Canadian province of Manitoba. This flies in the face of reason, as 310-LOAN's executive study indicates. (Photo: picasaweb.google.com)

Payday loans are heavily regulated in the Canadian province of Manitoba. This flies in the face of reason, as 310-LOAN's executive study indicates. (Photo: picasaweb.google.com)

Governments both large and small often take it upon themselves to decide what consumers should or shouldn’t be able to do with their own money. Call this the “nanny state” mentality if you will. Regardless, it seems that a population is somewhat less than empowered if the ability to make financial choices is taken away, replaced by rules (explicit or otherwise). Through the eyes of capitalism, if consumers are not afforded self-determination, the market flounders and the people become increasingly dependent upon their government for financial protection.

The payday loans industry has taken its lumps when it comes to regulation-happy governments. Despite well-reasoned arguments that reflect the trends, tendencies and – dare I say it – general will of the people, numerous governments have managed to push through legislation that effectively kills consumer choice and destroys the payday lending industry within the affected region. In addition to the obvious unemployment that results from such careless legislation, the consumers who demanded the payday loan product are driven to less desirable (more expensive) alternatives. There’s a reason they weren’t depending upon the traditional banking system in the first place. Just because payday lending is regulated out of states and provinces doesn’t mean all of the consumers who depending upon payday loans are acceptable risks by traditional banking industry standards.

Manitoba Allows 17 Percent APR

This rate cannot sustain a payday lending business that relies upon payday loans alone for operating profits. It’s been proven many times over. Canada’s provinces (See: http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5h3DfHGfgaUgIrJMxJEAUzZ1K5CbA) have made life difficult for businesses that offer payday loans. British Columbia has a 23 percent APR rate cap, Quebec caps rates at 35 percent and Nova Scotia allows 60 percent. Compared with Nova Scotia, it seems that Manitoba payday lending lobbyists forgot to show up for the party. I jest, of course. One 2007 study by Andrew Smyth and Nathan Slee of 310-LOAN (considered to be Canada’s largest direct payday lender) makes such a clear case that one wonders if Manitoba’s government even read it. If they had read it and still voted to go with a 17 percent APR cap, you’d wonder either what axe they have to grind or who was fronting their retreat to Aruba.

Evidence pertaining to public hearings before the Manitoba Public Utility Board to determine maximum allowable charges and fees for payday loans

To preface the study, the authors cite a comment by Manitoba’s Minister of Finance at the time, Greg Selinger. Selinger said that “The intention is not to drive the companies out of business, because people are showing an interest in having this service, but to make sure that when they offer the service they do it in a way that’s just and reasonable.”

What is “Just and Reasonable?”

310-LOAN, according to the authors, clearly explains their fee structure to customers before any agreements are signed. They also verify that customers are actively employed as opposed to depending upon pensions or social assistance. That is a reasonable way to treat one’s payday loan customers, it would seem. Furthermore, 310-LOAN will not accept applicants who already have more than two NSF transactions in their recent banking history or more than one outstanding payday loan with another lender. They accept applicants who can reasonably repay their payday loans. Such is a protection for both the consumer and the payday loan company. Just and reasonable care is taken that neither party is exploited.

Who Uses Payday Loans?

The study authors utilize payday loan studies from Statistics Canada (StatsCan), IpsosReid, Environics, The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and StratCom. When available, these findings are compared against the general Manitoban population. The data for Manitoba indicates that payday loans are used by consumers who earn a slightly below average income for the province, but these consumers are far from being the “victimized poor.”

Average Age: Neither Too Young nor Too Old

According to Environics, the average Manitoba payday loans customer is 39 years old. StatsCan puts the number at 39.5, while PIAC found the average to be 42. With these and all the following results, it should be noted (and perhaps goes without saying) that the survey audiences are not identical.

Gender Split

It’s nearly a 50/50 split according to most studies. The 2006 Census for Manitoba gave a three to four percent bump up for female payday loan customers, however.

Marital Status: Most are From Married Households

The 2006 Census found that 48 percent of payday loan customers in Manitoba were married. Environics recorded 49 percent while PIAC was significantly higher at 59 percent. For single payday loan customers, the numbers were almost identical across the board: 35 percent by the Census, 35 by Environics and 31 percent according to PIAC. Only a small sample listed themselves as separated, divorced or widowed: 17 percent in the Census, 15 percent by Environics’ count and 10 percent according to PIAC.

They Will Have Residency

Partakers of payday loans in Manitoba tend to weight more heavily toward being renters, but the RBC Home Ownership Survey used for a portion of the data indicates that a majority (61 percent) do indeed own homes. In total, renters totaled 39 (RBC), 76 (Environics) and 41 percent of the respondents. Home ownership was 61 percent according to RBC, 21 percent for Environics and 59 percent for PIAC. The variations in the Environics study are curious, but not discussed by the study authors.

Household Income: Below Average, But Not Poor

Manitoba’s payday loan portrait is decidedly middle-class according to data the study authors present. Using 2001 Census data for the province, the average income for all Manitobans was $58,360. Looking at payday loan customers, PIAC found that the average income level was $51,400 and StratCom (using stats for Toronto in the Ontario province) marked it at $53,480. Environics was considerably lower at $41,376, while StratCom (using Vancouver, British Columbia data) was $42,026.

Education Level: Educated Payday Loan Customers

Using the same sources as the previous indicator, the 2001 Census found that 23 percent of Manitobans had graduated from university, 31 percent had gone to college or vocational school and 24 percent had at least a high school diploma (leaving 23 percent under that education level). StratCom (again for Vancouver) puts those numbers at 16, 28, 44 and 12 percent, respectively. StratCom Toronto clocks in at 26, 36, 34 and a miniscule three percent (more highly educated in urban Ontario, it seems). Environics’ distribution is 21, 43, 20 and 14 percent and PIAC’s is 18, 23 52 and six percent.

Employment: Payday Loan Customers Have Steady Jobs

As stated earlier, 310-LOAN requires that their customers be gainfully employed. While this standard is not exclusive in the payday lending industry as a whole, it is a dominant requirement to which most lenders adhere. Looking first at the general population of Manitoba as surveyed by Environics, we see the following breakdown, supporting the notion that payday loans in Manitoba and beyond are taken by consumers with the ability to repay:

  • Employed: 62 percent
  • Unemployed: Four percent (very low by today’s standards)
  • Student: Six percent
  • Retired: 21 percent
  • Homemaker: Four percent

The total sample of payday loan customers taken by StratCom (Vancouver and Toronto) is as follows:

  • Employed: 89 percent
  • Unemployed: Four percent
  • Student: One percent
  • Retired: Four percent
  • Homemaker: One percent

For Environics in Manitoba:

  • Employed: 78 percent
  • Unemployed: Seven percent
  • Student: Two percent
  • Retired: Five percent
  • Homemaker: Two percent

And finally PIAC:

  • Employed: 70 percent
  • Unemployed: 10 percent
  • Student: Eight percent
  • Retired: Seven percent
  • Homemaker: Five percent

Why Does Manitoba Use Payday Loans?

Emergency cash and money to cover unexpected expenses are the main reasons given in the PIAC and Environics studies, report the 310-LOAN study authors. Environics also found that consumers use payday loans to avoid bouncing a check. For Environics:

  • Necessary Emergency Cash: 36 percent
  • Covering Surprise Expenses: 24 percent
  • To Cover a Potential Bounced Check: 21 percent
  • Short-term Income Shortage: 11 percent
  • For Discretionary Purchases: Four percent
  • Other: Three percent

PIAC showed similar results, but notice the differences, which are not excluded to the categories PIAC respondents didn’t even cite that did rank in the Environics study:

  • Necessary Emergency Cash: 31 percent
  • Covering Surprise Expenses: 34 percent
  • Bounced Check: Seven percent (why it’s so much lower is unclear)
  • For a Major Purchase: Five percent
  • Discretionary Purchases: 16 percent (why so much higher?)

When Banks Simply Won’t Do

Speed, convenience, privacy and the ability to handle emergency financial situations were all significant indicators for payday loan customers across multiple study sources. In addition, there is some evidence that suggests some dissatisfaction with traditional banking sources. See the authors’ study for specific numbers. It should also be noted that the studies referenced lean significantly toward “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” for consumer approval level with payday loans and alternative financial services.

What Does a Harsh Rate Cap Do to Payday Loans in Manitoba?

310-LOAN’s study authors attempt to illustrate this is terms of where their own business is in the product life cycle. They claim payday lending is reaching the maturity stage, where saturation in society is relatively high. “In the case of payday loans, as more lenders appear, consumers are more exposed to the product and more inclined to use it,” write the authors. The saturation tends to intensify competition, leading the market toward greater self-regulation of pricing. This competition ultimately benefits the consumer, but the competition must be allowed to reach its apex if they are to fully reap the benefits. That’s the nature of a free-market economy.

Canadian Government Thinks Competition Should Already Be Maxed

Thus, they think rates should have already reached the lowest “consumer-friendly” point. Since they consider rates to be too high (a notion that the average consumer surveyed disputes), governments impose rate caps. It kills payday lenders, but does not kill demand for payday loans.

310-LOAN finds that while payday lending has grown quickly, supply is only now starting to catch up with demand. Their support for this notion is that payday loan industry advertising spending in Manitoba has begun to exceed revenue increases only in this most recent stage in payday lending’s life cycle. Earlier findings (where the supply was lower) wouldn’t need excessive advertising in order to gain customers. Demand provided fuel for growth.

Section 347 of the Criminal Code Has Delayed Saturation

Legal woes for the payday loan industry have slowed growth. This is not to say that the product is illegal; it certainly is not. But enough roadblocks were set up by the Canadian legal system to slow payday loan industry growth. In many cases, it was even a barrier to entry for potential payday lenders. This kept many potential investors away as well.

Competition and Lower Rates: the U.S. Model

The authors cite a Federal Reserve study by Donald Morgan (“Defining and Detecting Predatory Lending“) in which the connection between more payday loan stores per capita and lower rates is made quite clear. This does not mean, as the authors comment on a 60 percent APR cap that some Manitoba lawmakers had proposed before going off the deep end at 17 percent, that such a rate would be sustainable. That’s far from the truth in their estimation. In fact, it had been widely acknowledged that 60 percent is not financially viable for payday loan companies.

“Without an agreed upon method of calculating an unconscionable rate,” write the study authors, “we suggest that the board consider the costs involved in issuing short-term, small sum loans in the market today in order to effectively set the limit on the cost of borrowing.” Using a well-known Ernst & Young study, they note the profit margins for what are considered to be Canada’s “big five” banks:

  • CIBC: 23.61 percent
  • BMO Bank of Montreal: 27.43 percent
  • RBC Royal Bank: 23.26 percent
  • Scotiabank: 32.81 percent
  • TD Canada Trust: 35.51 percent
    Average: 28.52 percent

Also based upon Ernst & Young findings, the authors note that the rate for issuing a $279 payday loan is $74.08. That’s 26.55 percent for the loan issued, which compares quite favorably with the average banking profit margin above. Based upon the authors’ interpretation of data on 11 payday lenders, such a rate would allow 10 of them to “remain in the market and stimulate and immediate increase in supply and investment in the payday loan industry.”

The Risks of an Excessively Low Rate Ceiling

Allow the industry to evolve in a natural free-market setting, argue the study authors. That will enhance both product and pricing according to consumer need. Set the rates too low and lenders must slash costs wherever possible and abandon efforts to meet consumer need. For instance, allowing for installment loans has proven to be popular with consumers in many locations, but the cost associated would be impossible to swallow for lenders if rates are cut to the proverbial quick. For consumers, there is anecdotal evidence that the convenience of installment loans would outweigh having the least expensive loan possible under law.

Life Dictates Debt, Not Payday Lenders

Situations like job loss, illness and family or other personal difficulties tend to have the greatest impact upon a consumer’s ability to repay short term credit such as payday loans. Yet the Manitoba government (or any government) wants the public to believe that it is the rates of supposedly predatory lenders that cause the problem. Thus, they see rate caps as the only answer. Consumers and even economists do not tend to share such views. Interest rate caps to not solve personal and societal issues; they merely restrict the free market and tend to add trouble rather than subtract it.

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