Regulators who are circling the multibillion-dollar payday loan industry zeroed in Thursday on expensive deposit advances made by a handful of major commercial banks, including Wells Fargo & Co. and U.S. Bancorp.
The loans are marketed as fixes for emergencies, but regulators say the payday-like advances pose significant risks to consumers. On Thursday, federal bank regulators issued their 23-page final guidance, warning banks that they need to underwrite the advances like other loans, and assess the borrower’s ability to repay without taking out another advance.
The guidance also limits banks to six deposit advances for a customer each year. Banks can only issue one deposit advance per monthly statement cycle, and can’t make it until the previous one has been fully paid off and the customer has waited out a cooling-off period of at least one monthly statement cycle.
Banks need to come up with affordable small-dollar loan products for consumers, it said.
The average bank payday loan is for 12 days and carries fees of $7.50 to $10 per $100 borrowed, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. That translates into an annual percentage rate (APR) of 225 percent to 300 percent. More than a third of the borrowers took out more than 20 deposit advances a year, the group found, and a quarter of borrowers are on Social Security.
Consumer advocates cheered the requirements, saying they go to the heart of the payday loan problem, which is the repeat borrowing that digs customers deeper into debt.
“I think they absolutely hit the nail on the head. They just nailed it,” said Ron Elwood, supervising attorney at the Legal Services Advocacy Project in St. Paul. “It has zeroed in on the fundamental concerns that advocates have about these potentially toxic products.”
The finalized requirements largely stick to proposals the Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.(FDIC) issued in the spring.
Nick Bourke, project director at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said they’re stronger than the initial proposals because they encompass a broader range of loans including lines of credit and installment loans.
“We hope that the regulators do actually apply the guidance broadly so that all small-dollar loans are more affordable for people,” Bourke said.
The new rules apply only to banks regulated by the OCC, such as Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank, and the FDIC. They don’t apply to credit unions or smaller institutions regulated by the Federal Reserve.
They also don’t apply to the payday industry’s myriad nonbank players that operate from storefronts and the Internet.
There has been widespread speculation that the regulation would kill the bank products. But San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. said Thursday that it hasn’t yet decided what to do.
“Once we’ve studied the OCC’s report, we will make a determination about our Direct Deposit Advance service and any changes that may be required,” spokeswoman Richele Messick said in a statement. “We will communicate extensively with our customers when we know more.”
U.S. Bank, based in Minneapolis, said it too was reviewing the report.
The American Bankers Association fought the proposals when regulators first issued them in April, saying the underwriting standards were particularly onerous. Nessa Feddis, the association’s senior vice president, consumer protection and payments, said the new rules could push consumers to riskier and more expensive products. The loans are popular, she said.
Feddis criticized the rules for creating an unlevel playing field for financial institutions.
She stopped short of saying that the rules will end the products, saying: “It certainly will make it more difficult to offer.”