Payday Loan Complaints – A Look At The Numbers

Payday loans have been around for a long time and their history certainly does not inspire warm feelings. Payday lending developed a negative reputation for targeting low-income with misdirection and deceptive advertising.

These consumers are normally in a serious pinch for cash and more likely to apply for a payday loan offer. The results are normally detrimental for the consumer and lucrative for the lender. For that reason, they are often labeled “predatory.”

Despite their infamous reputation, payday lending is very much alive today. Many low-income consumers turn to payday loans for help despite having such high interest rates and difficult repayment timelines. To put it in perspective, payday lending breached $50 billion during the mid 2000s.

As a result, the government took actions to protect consumers from predatory payday lending. For instance, the Truth in Lending Act and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act limit deceptive and misleading practices.

One policy, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which has collected consumer complaints since 2011. During 2016, the CFPB collected 1,539 complaints about payday loans.

Here on Millennial Personal Finance, I decided to a do a little bit of digging in my spare time. I was curious to see how much trouble consumers are having with payday lending today. And if there is trouble, then what kind of trouble and with who? The results can be found below!

Companies with the Most Complaints

Only the top 25 payday lending companies are included from a list of over 200 companies, but these 25 companies account for over 70% of the complaints filed about payday loans in 2016.

Most Common Complaints

I was interested in what kinds of complaints were being filed. Here is a breakdown of all filed payday loan complaints by type. Note that all of these are similar in some respect.


So why did I do this? For starters, data is interesting in general, but more importantly, I like to look for trends and characteristics within industries. Data is the perfect tool for this. Luckily for me, the CFPB complaint database is an excellent data resource.

Payday lending is notorious for preying on low-income consumers. Looking at the CFPB complaint database was the perfect way to see which companies seem to catch the most flak for payday lending, most notably Big Picture Loans, ACE Cash Express, and Enova International.

It was mentioned that the top 25 companies account for 70% of all payday loan complaints. This was actually taken as a good sign. I analyzed over 200 payday companies. With that in mind, a majority of payday companies share the minority of complaints. In other words, most payday lenders don’t give their borrowers much to complain about while a select number do the exact opposite.

I was excited to analyze what these complaints were about since I believe they shed insight on payday lending practices today. I came to a pretty simple conclusion.

I noticed a common characteristic with all of these complaints. They all involve account mismanagement to some degree. All of the main complaints have to do with losing money to a lender (either unexpected fees or random, off-schedule charges), failure to receive funds from a lender, receiving random loans without application, or failure to record payments made to a lender.

To top it all off, the second leading complaint is “can’t contact lender.” Problems with payday lenders such as unexpected charges and unaccounted for payments is one thing, but these problems are compounded with the difficulties consumers face when contacting their payday lenders. This just screams predatory lending and malpractice.

To be fair, a disproportionate number of companies account for the majority of consumer complaints. The negatives mentioned do not apply to all, if not most, payday loan companies. However, there are still a select few who can qualify as “sketchy.” At any rate, it is easy to see that the majority of payday loan complaints involve financially hurtful mistakes even if they do not apply to most payday lenders. 


Data was pulled from the Consumer Complaint Database from the CFPB on January 6th, 2017. This data includes all complaints made to the CFPB about “payday loan[s]” during the entirety of 2016. In total, 1,539 complaints were analyzed. All data was sorted by companies and complaint type, respectively seen in the published tables.

Project CRediT sources data from Wealthy Genius including net worth, earnings, and various wealth statistics.

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