Regulators Threaten App Startups That “Give People Access to Their Pay as They Earn It”

(p. B5) WASHINGTON—A growing industry of financial apps that allow workers to access their pay early is drawing scrutiny from regulators to prove they are different from payday lenders.

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Last month, regulators from New York and 10 other states said they were investigating whether some payroll-advance firms violated payday-lending laws. In California, state lawmakers are debating a law that aims to set the legal foundation for the industry and provide consumer protections, the first such attempt in the country.

The moves by state officials come as the industry is growing. Leslie Parrish, an analyst for research firm Aite Group, said the industry is “poised for exponential growth.” Aite Group estimated the app companies handled 18.6 million early U.S. payroll transactions valued at more than $3.15 billion in 2018.

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Industry executives and some consumer advocates say the services offer the potential to help lower- and moderate-income workers by providing low-cost tools, though they disagree on how businesses should be structured and regulated.

“It hasn’t solved the income inequality problem,” Todd Baker, a senior fellow at Columbia Business School, said. “What it does is replace, for a nominal cost, the $30, $40 people pay today for a single overdraft or a $200 payday loan.”

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“In the U.S., we have this pay cycle that holds back people’s pay,” said Ram Palaniappan, chief executive of Earnin. “What we have been able to do is to give people access to their pay as they earn it.”

Earnin tracks users’ work and pay schedules using time sheets or location services and will deposit up to $500 per pay period in their bank accounts. Rather than charging fees for its service, Earnin asks users to consider voluntary tips of up to $14.

For the full story, see:

Yuka Hayashi. “Pay-App Startups Draw Scrutiny.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 2, 2019, and has the title “Pay-Access Apps Face Regulatory Test.”)

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