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Payday Lenders Face Greater Oversight

Payday lenders have already had to shutter operations in areas operating under new rules. For instance, Advance America (AEA) closed 190 stores in 26 states and the United Kingdom, while QC Holdings (QCCO) cited forcibly discontinued operations as a reason for lower revenue in its latest quarter. The payday sector isn't immune to the recession, either, facing higher credit costs just as surging unemployment has hindered borrowers' ability to repay debt, at any interest rate.

Dollar Financial (DLLR) CEO Jeff Weiss recently noted that, while most of the company's customer base is employed in non-discretionary jobs, like "stocking shelves in grocery stores and supermarkets...with unemployment rates near 10% in all of our markets, a segment of our customer base has been moderately impacted by job losses, furloughs, and a reduction in working hours."

The regulatory crackdown and economic turmoil have fostered a few trends. First, payday lenders are shifting their focus to pawnshop operations, rather than outright loans. They are also expanding abroad -- particularly in Mexico -- with Washington making consumer protection a priority.

Another trend is charging higher fees in payday-friendly states until the federal regulation is passed, as well as boosting the cost of non-lending services, like pawning.

While QC Holdings deals with branch closures and higher credit costs, Chief Operating Officer Darrin Andersen says "maximizing profitability at each branch is a primary goal."

Payday lenders offer an assortment of services to those in need of quick cash. Customers can cash checks; get advances on paychecks that are coming in a week or two; receive title loans for cars; or pawn personal property. Some companies also have "rent-to-own" furniture programs.

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