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Jacob William Faber

Research Findings

Segregation and the cost of money: Race, poverty, and the prevalence of alternative financial institutions

July 24, 2019

“Alternative financial services” (AFS), such as payday lenders, check cashers, and pawnshops, have expanded dramatically in recent decades, reshaping the American financial services landscape. In New York State, for example, the number of AFS increased from 2,428 in 1998 to 4,041 in 2015. Nationally, payday lenders are now more common than McDonald’s and Starbucks, combined—nearly one in four households will use an AFS each year.

Policymakers, inequality scholars, and advocates for the poor have long been concerned with AFS because they tend to be more expensive than “mainstream” banking. For example, using a check casher in lieu of a bank could cost tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a career. About half of people who take out payday loans end up paying more in interest and fees than the value of the initial loan, which suggests that these products can exploit economic insecurity and trap individuals in cycles of debt.

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