Millions of credit-constrained borrowers turn to title loans to meet their liquidity needs. Legislatures and regulators have debated how to best regulate these transactions, but surprisingly, we still know very little about the customers who use title loans. This Article reports findings from the first large-scale academic study of title lending customers. We surveyed over 400 title lending customers across three states and obtained information about customers’ demographic and behavioral characteristics.
Based on the results of our survey and guided by insights from behavioral economics, this Article seeks to reframe the title lending debate. Instead of focusing on the risks and consequences of borrowers’ cars being repossessed, as the vast bulk of the literature does, we argue that the primary problem that most borrowers face is underestimating the true cost of taking out a title loan. Borrowers’ survey responses demonstrate that many borrowers are overly optimistic and experience self-control problems that affect their ability to make timely loan payments. We argue that these deviations from the assumptions of classical economics do not warrant an outright ban of title lending, but they do provide room for policy interventions. Policymakers can improve efficiency in title lending markets by requiring lenders to disclose to consumers the likely experiences they will have with their title loans rather than merely requiring lenders to communicate pricing information.