Explaining Southern California's economy

The DeBord Report on 'America Now with Andy Dean'

Listen in to my weekly Economics Report segment on "America Now with Andy Dean." I've been doing this for a few weeks now, and have appeared in the broadcast a number times before that, and although Andy gives me plenty of grief for my "liberal" positions, I have to hand it to him: He does a three-hour radio show every day and really has his preparation down. Whenever we talk, he knows his numbers — cold. Good examples from Last Friday's show include our discussion of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's investigation of bank overdraft fees and of the Obama/Romney plans to reduces corporate taxes. We also have a little fun an the expense of Meg Whitman and HP's consternating plan to introduce a Windows-Intel tablet.

It's always great to talk to somebody who has a good grasp of data. My colleagues at KPCC always strike me as being great at this, as does Mr. Dean.

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How marketing saved bank overdraft fees

Mercer 8468

Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

New rules apply to banks for charging overdraft fees

Here's BusinessWeek on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's decision to instigate a new probe of bank overdraft fees:

In November 2009, the Federal Reserve moved to rein in the high fees that banks charged consumers who overdrew their accounts when making debit-card purchases or withdrawing cash from an ATM....

In theory, that should have dealt a major blow to the overdraft business.... [But] overdraft fee revenue to banks from ATM and retail purchases was still on track to top $16 billion last year, just a 16 percent drop from its peak in 2009, according to Moebs Services, a banking consultancy. The rates are still so high in part because many banks launched aggressive marketing campaigns to get customers to sign up, with letters, calls, and e-mails that at times were alarmist warnings of what would happen if you didn’t opt in.

Bankers, for their part, say it wasn’t marketing that led consumers to sign up—it’s because consumers want the ability to overdraw their accounts in a pinch. “This can be a way of getting piece of mind,” says the American Bankers Association’s Richard Riese. He says even if a consumer didn’t fully understand the overdraft fees when he signed up, he’d get notice of the fee on a monthly statement and could opt out at any time. “The light bulb would have gone off real fast if it wasn’t what they wanted,” he says.

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Cracking down on payday lenders

Obama Nominates Richard Cordray To Head Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 18: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) shakes hands with former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray during a presser to announce the nomination of Cordray as head of the in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as Special Advisor on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Elizabeth Warren (L) watches in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. The new bureau was created under a reform bill last year and intends to make basic financial practices such as taking out a mortgage or loan more clear and transparent to consumers while weeding out unfair lending practices. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

If you want to see what loan sharking looks like in modern America, look no farther than the payday lending industry. As this blog from the White House (yes, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. blogs) points out, 20 million Americans use payday loans — and the average interest rate charged on a two-week loan is 400 percent!

The White House used a $100 loan as its basis. From a payday lender, a Benjamin winds up costing the borrower $16. If you accept that 20 million figure, this means that on $100 loans, the payday lending racket is bringing in $320 million every two weeks. OK, that's simple math and may not represent reality. But perhaps not that far off, as some borrowers will borrow more, some less.

Just for context, 20 million Americans equals 6.5 percent of the population. That's an alarmingly high number of people who are exposed to a horrifically high level of short-term interest. But it also explains why the payday lending business has taken off.

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