Small-Dollar Installment Loans: An Empirical Analysis

64 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2015

See all articles by Howard Beales

Howard Beales

George Washington University - School of Business

Anand M. Goel

Stevens Institute of Technology

Date Written: March 20, 2015


Small-dollar credit is a form of unsecured consumer credit primarily characterized by the low dollar amounts of loans. There has been increasing debate about the benefit and harm to consumers from small-dollar loans, along with recent discussion of greater regulation. Determining the need for and appropriate form of regulation requires an understanding of the current state of the small-dollar credit industry based on actual industry data. One significant change is the shift from single-payment payday loans to multiple-payment loans or installment loans. This paper is the first systematic study of small-dollar installment loans.

Our main findings are as follows. A typical installment loan is for $900 and is scheduled to be repaid in 12 biweekly installments over six months. Less than a quarter of borrowers take another loan within 14 days of ending a previous loan. Most borrowers do not keep their loan until maturity. Even repeat borrowers generally either pay off the loan or have it charged off before the maturity date of their original loan. Those who borrow repeatedly are more likely to repay their loans on average and are offered lower interest rates, indicating that at least some of these repeat borrowers are utilizing the opportunity to borrow again based on their past track record of payments. Payment-to-income ratio alone is a poor metric for predicting whether the loan will be paid off or not. Regulation imposing an upper limit on payment-to-income ratio is likely to result in reduced access to credit for a large majority of current borrowers, without a large improvement in loan payoff rates. A payment-to-income limit of 5% would reduce the volume of credit between 55.1% and 92.6%. It would only increase the loan payoff rate by 0.7% (from 72.9% to 73.6%). A payment-to-income limit of 10% will result in reduction of credit between 26.5% and 67.8% without any increase in loan payoff rate.

A regulation that prohibits lending based on simple affordability criteria risks substantial reductions in credit availability to a population that often has few available alternatives. A cost-benefit analysis of the proposed regulation requires weighing the cost of reduced access to a financially underserved segment of the population against the benefit of a higher loan payoff rate and lower incidence of indebtedness. Limiting the payment-to-income ratio to 5% would benefit fewer than 1% of borrowers by reducing the incidence of loans that are not paid off, but it would impose costs on 86% of current borrowers, who could not be offered the same credit on the same terms that they now obtain. Raising the permitted ratio can reduce these costs, but it also reduces the benefits, because payment-to-income ratio alone is poor predictor of the likelihood of repayment.

Keywords: Payday loans, Small-dollar, Household finance, Installment loans

JEL Classification: D18, G21, G28, L51

Suggested Citation

Beales, Howard and Goel, Anand Mohan, Small-Dollar Installment Loans: An Empirical Analysis (March 20, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Howard Beales

George Washington University - School of Business ( email )

Washington, DC 20052
United States

Anand Mohan Goel (Contact Author)

Stevens Institute of Technology ( email )

Hoboken, NJ 07030
United States


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