Payday Loans – What You Need to Know

There are more payday loan stores in the United States than there are McDonalds restaurants so if you are in desperate need of an emergency infusion of cash you may be one step away from your goal. But if your car is sitting in the driveway leaking vital fluids, you may not even have to leave home to get a payday loan as many purveyors of the service are now online.

How a payday loan works

Before you rush to do a search for “payday loan online” there are a few things you should know about how these types of loans work and what alternatives are available. A payday loan is a short term small-balance loan that is intended to tide you over till your next payday arrives. They can be conveniently obtained as payday loans do not require a credit check. If all you have are a checking account and two recent paychecks, you may be a customer. But there’s a price.

Payday or payroll advance loans are offered by companies that usually fly under the radar of state and local government consumer protection laws. In some sates such as Georgia, which has the stiffest regulations in the country, payday lenders have been accused of predatory practice and have sometimes been run out of town on rails. In their defense, payday lenders say they provide a much-needed solution to consumers with less than perfect credit and who must have a quick infusion of cash to tide them over till their next pay day.

In exchange for these high risk loans, payday lenders charge a fixed fee for a fixed period, usually fourteen days and if you happen to miss the fourteen day deadline, there’s a penalty fee that is added to your charges along with another set of fees to roll over the loan through another period.

Rapid escalation

In short order, if you borrowed $500 for an emergency situation, you could end up owing as much as $700 if you miscalculated your cash flow and were forced to take a payday loan for a month. That equates to 480% or so per year and on the face of it, looks like a dreadfully large price to pay for a small amount of money. So payday loans are usually a good idea only when you have run out of options entirely.

Whether you are applying online or in person, you must at least have a checking account. Payday lenders will require you to write them a postdated check for the loan amount plus the finance charges. They will be more than happy to extend the life of the loan if your needs are pressing. And the sheer convenience of payday loans online is difficult to resist. These sophisticated sites require your routing and account numbers from your check book and will routinely deposit money in your checking account almost instantly.

What can go wrong?

You run the risk of miscalculating your budget and getting into a cycle of using one payday loan to pay the other. The Center for Responsible Lending, a Durham, North Carolina non-profit, reports that the vast majority of payday loan borrowers do five transactions a year, while more than half of all borrowers take twelve or more loans per year. If you get into a cycle of dependency on payday loans, it may be hard to wean yourself from the habit.

Several states led by Georgia recognize this and have banned payday loans at one time or another, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia. But you should take heart if you live in those states, or if you have had all you can take of onerous interest rates.

The alternatives

You may be surprised to learn there are alternatives to payday lending and certainly to the beguiling online payday lending sites. If your credit rating is in the cellar you may find the following suggestions just short of annoying but I’ll make them anyway:

Use your credit card for which you’ll pay a much lower rate than a payday loan.

Ask your payroll department for a salary advance.

Ask a friend or family member for a loan.

Offer your supplier or service person a post-dated check.

Ask for an extension on your car loan that defers one month’s payment and frees up some cash.

The other alternatives

Realistically speaking, if you had good credit or a reasonably well-off family member, you would probably not be in the market for a payday loan. So your only reasonable alternative may be to minimize the damage. Searching for a payday loan online may be your best option for finding a reasonably low interest rate. But you must brace yourself for prompt repayment in order to avoid getting on the lender’s treadmill. Once you have lined up a reasonable rate and obtained your cash, you should start planning how to avoid becoming repeat business.

Breaking the cycle

A great place to start would be to learn how to make a simple personal budget so you can put aside small amounts of cash each payday for an emergency fund. If budgeting does not work for you, consider joining a credit union before your next crisis occurs. Credit unions now offer a nifty device called a Salary Advance Loan Program. State Employees Credit union in North Carolina has one of those. They will lend you up to $500.00 at 18% and with no fees attached and they allow borrowers to set up a loan by phone. They require that you have a direct deposit account with the credit union, into which your paycheck goes.

But what if you don’t work for the state of North Carolina? Or what if you don’t belong to a credit union or have a family member who does? All is not lost. The National Credit Union Administration has a nifty web page accessible from their “Resources” page where you can search for credit unions by type and state. This is pretty useful because some credit unions will allow you membership just because you live in a particular city or county. Take ACCESS Federal Credit Union in New York state for instance. According to their web site, “if you live, work, worship, or go to school anywhere in Oneida County or the City of Oneida, you are now eligible to join.”

Otherwise

If you absolutely, positively cannot find a credit union near you that offers salary advance loan programs, try to minimize the damage by shopping around for the best possible rate, before you run into an emergency. With a little luck, payday lenders online and off may realize a little restraint can go a long way. Any day now congress may decide to take up legislation to cap payday loan rates at lower levels, much as they have done for military personnel, whose rates have been capped at 36%.