What is a payday loan?

Answer: While there is no set definition of a payday loan, it is usually a short-term, high cost loan, generally for $500 or less, that is typically due on your next payday. Depending on your state law, payday loans may be available through storefront payday lenders or online.

Some common features of a payday loan:

  • The loans are for small amounts, and many states set a limit on payday loan size. $500 is a common loan limit although limits range above and below this amount.

  • A payday loan is usually repaid in a single payment on the borrower’s next payday, or when income is received from another source such as a pension or Social Security. The due date is typically two to four weeks from the date the loan was made. The specific due date is set in the payday loan agreement.

  • To repay the loan, you generally write a post-dated check for the full balance, including fees, or you provide the lender with authorization to electronically debit the funds from your bank, credit union, or prepaid card account. If you don’t repay the loan on or before the due date, the lender can cash the check or electronically withdraw money from your account.

  • Your ability to repay the loan while meeting your other financial obligations is generally not considered by a payday lender.

  • The loan proceeds may be provided to you by cash or check, electronically deposited into your account, or loaded on a prepaid debit card.

Other loan features can vary. For example, payday loans are often structured to be paid off in one lump-sum payment. Some state laws permit lenders to “rollover” or “renew” a loan when it becomes due so that the consumer pays only the fees due and the lender extends the due date of the loan. In some cases, payday loans may be structured so that they are repayable in installments over a longer period of time. 

Cost of a payday loan. Many state laws set a maximum amount for payday loan fees ranging from $10 to $30 for every $100 borrowed. A typical two-week payday loan with a $15 per $100 fee equates to an annual percentage rate (APR) of almost 400 percent. By comparison, APRs on credit cards can range from about 12 percent to about 30 percent. In many states that permit payday lending, the cost of the loan, fees, and the maximum loan amount are capped.

The laws in your state may permit, regulate, or prohibit these loans. Some states do not have payday lending because these loans are not permitted by the state’s law or because payday lenders have decided not do to business at the interest rate and fees permitted in those states. In states that do permit or regulate payday lending, you may be able to find more information from your state regulator or state attorney general.

Protections for servicemembers. There are special protections through the federal Military Lending Act (MLA) for active duty servicemembers and their dependents. Those protections include a cap of 36 percent on the Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR) as well as other limitations on what lenders can charge for payday and other consumer loans. Contact your local Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office to learn more about lending restrictions. You can use the JAG Legal Assistance Office locator to find help.

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