NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Payday loans are the financial bastion of last resort for consumers barely living paycheck-to-paycheck -- the last stop between buying the groceries or going hungry for way too many U.S families.

And women use the loans more than men, a study suggests.

According to a study from the Pew Foundation, American adults spend about $7.4 billion on payday loans, using approximately 20,000 storefronts and hundreds of websites and now even banks.

The return-on-investment from payday loans is a gut punch to consumers. Pew says the 12 million Americans who use payday loans take out an average eight each year of about $375 each, paying an average $520 in annual interest.

Or put it this way: According to the state of Colorado, even with tough laws passed in August 2010 extending minimum payday loan terms to six months and capping amounts, Centennial State payday borrowers take, on average, $330 on each loan and pay about $236 in interest, fees and charges.

Pew researchers are not huge fans of payday loans. They say:

The loans are a highly controversial form of credit, as borrowers find fast relief but often struggle for months to repay obligations marketed as lasting only weeks.

While proponents argue that payday lending is a vital way to help underserved people solve temporary cash-flow problems, opponents claim that the practice preys on overburdened people with expensive debt that is usually impossible to retire on the borrower's next payday.

Now, data are out showing women are more likely to use payday loans than men.

The numbers come from a Colorado state government report on payday loans (where the new laws sent such loans down 60% in 2011 on a per-dollar basis).

The Colorado study shows that women (especially single women) are significantly more likely to take a payday loan as men. According to the study data, that has been the case for the past 10 years, with women accounting for 53.6% of payday loans in 2001, 53.2% in 2006 and 52.4% last year.

The Great Recession saw more men than women lose jobs over the past five years, and most payday lenders require that borrowers have full-time employment. But the Colorado study notes women in the state makes about $330 less than men on an annual basis and may need the extra cash several times per year to make ends meet.

Whatever the reasons, too many women (and plenty of men) are getting fleeced on payday loans, apparently with full knowledge of the bad deal they're handed.