A payday loan or payday advance is a small, short-term loan (typically up to $1,500 in the U.S.) that is intended to bridge the borrower's cash flow gap between paydays. Payday loans are also sometimes referred to as cash advances, though that term can also refer to cash provided against a prearranged line of credit such as a credit card.
The payday loan is typically given in cash and secured by the borrower's post-dated check that includes the original loan principal and accrued interest. The maturity date usually coincides with the borrower's next payday. On the maturity date the lender processes the check traditionally or through electronic withdrawal from the borrower's checking account if the borrower does not first repay or service the loan in person. Some payday lenders require the borrower to bring pay stubs for a prescribed period leading up to the current week in order to insure that the borrower has a steady source of income and is likely to be able to cover the check if cashed.
Payday lenders typically operate small stores or franchises, but large financial service providers also offer variations on the payday advance. Some mainstream banks offer a "direct deposit advance" for customers whose paychecks are deposited electronically. When a consumer requests the direct deposit advance they receive a predetermined, small cash advance. On the next direct deposit into the consumer's bank account that advance amount is removed by the bank plus a fee for the advance (usually around 10-20%). Income tax preparation firms including H&R Block partner with lenders to offer "refund anticipation loans" to filers; such loans are not technically payday loans (because they are repayable upon receipt of the borrower's income tax refund, not at his next payday), but they have similar credit and cost characteristics.
In the United States, most states have usury laws which forbid interest rates in excess of a certain APR. Payday lenders formerly operated in those states by forming relationships with banks chartered in a different state with no usury ceiling (such as South Dakota or Delaware). Under the legal doctrine of rate exportation, established by Marquette Nat. Bank v. First of Omaha Corp. 439 U.S. 299 (1978), the loan is governed by the laws of the state the bank is chartered in. This is the same doctrine that allows credit card issuers based in South Dakota and Delaware — states that abolished their usury laws — to offer credit cards nationwide.  Recent actions by federal banking regulators have forced commercial banks to discontinue payday lending, with the effect that nearly all lawful payday loans in the United States are made by state-licensed lenders.
For example, a borrower seeking a payday loan may write a post-dated personal check for $115 to borrow $100 for up to 14 days. The check casher or payday lender agrees to hold the check until the borrower's next payday. At that time, the borrower has the option to redeem the check by paying $115 in cash, or refinance ("roll-over") the check by paying a fee to extend the loan for another two weeks. If the borrower does not refinance the loan, the lender deposits the check. In this example, the cost of the initial loan is a $15 finance charge, or 124 percent APR. Many states do not allow rollovers or limit the number of rollovers but, for example, if the borrower chooses to roll-over the loan three times, the finance charge would climb to $60 to borrow $100.
A staff report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that payday loan should not be categorized as "predatory" since they may improve household welfare. The report, "Defining and Detecting Predatory Lending," reads that "if payday lenders raise household welfare by relaxing credit constraints, anti-predatory legislation may lower it." The author of the report, Donald P. Morgan, defined predatory lending as "a welfare reducing provision of credit." Results of the report indicated that payday loans may actually do the opposite by improving the welfare of the consumer.