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Not-so-easy money: Report details hidden fees in cash app loans

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Not-so-easy money: Report details hidden fees in cash app loans

Cash advance apps can be hard to regulate.

April 23, 2024 1:16 PM CDT

By: Mike Moen, Wisconsin News Connection / Public News Service

WISCONSIN (Wisconsin News Connection) – Wisconsin lawmakers recently debated reforms for payday loans.

Efforts to protect consumers come amid new research about financial pain associated with cash advances offered through smartphone apps.

The Center for Responsible Lending is out with findings that detail how “earned wage advances” from digital platforms come with extra costs disguised as things like tips. Traditional payday lenders are often criticized for charging excessive interest rates on loans that are usually around $500.

While they’re advertised as loans with little or no interest, the Center for Responsible Lending says cash-advance apps often structure their products with optional fees and subscriptions that can end up mirroring extra costs seen through a traditional payday loan.

Lucia Constantine, a researcher with the Center for Responsible Lending, said customers are usually seeking smaller amounts from the apps, but she warns they can be just as costly.

“They are trapping consumers in a cycle of borrowing that is similar to that of a payday loan, ” she said.

The report said after using these financial products, customers are seeing overdrafts on their checking accounts increase by 56% on average. Industry leaders deny they’re barraging consumers with hidden fees, stressing that features such as suggested tips are optional. More broadly, a bipartisan payday loan reform bill in the Wisconsin Legislature failed to advance this month.

Constantine said like longstanding payday lenders, these cash advance apps can be hard to regulate. Meanwhile, she urged those in a bind to explore other options.

“[They should] try talking to their friends and family as a first source. The other option which I would recommend is reaching out to their credit union or banking institution to see if they can get some sort of small-dollar loan,” she said.

She noted places such as credit unions typically provide more transparency on loan costs. According to the report, three-quarters of consumers took out at least one advance on the same day or day after a re-payment was posted.

This article originally appeared on Wisconsin News Connection, a division of Public News Service.

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