DOJ, CFPB Fair Lending Enforcement Actions Target Credit Card Repayment Programs, Marketing Of Add-On Products


On June 19, the CFPB and the DOJ announced parallel enforcement actions against a federal savings bank that allegedly violated ECOA in the offering of credit card debt-repayment programs and allegedly engaged in deceptive marketing practices in the offering of certain card add-on products. The bank will pay a total of $228.5 million in customer relief and penalties to resolve the allegations.

ECOA Violations

The CFPB and DOJ charge that the bank excluded borrowers who indicated that they preferred communications to be in Spanish or who had a mailing address in Puerto Rico, even if the consumers met the promotion’s qualifications. The CFPB and DOJ assert that as a result, Hispanic populations were unfairly denied the opportunity to benefit from the promotions, which constitutes a violation of the ECOA’s prohibition on creditors discriminating in any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of characteristics such as national origin.

To resolve the joint fair lending actions, the bank entered into separate consent orders with the CFPB and the DOJ. As detailed in the DOJ order, the bank will make $37 million in payments, credits and waivers to affected borrowers. The bank already has provided the benefits of the offers or their equivalent value to approximately 84,000 borrowers, totaling $131.8 million in relief. In total the bank will provide $169 million in relief, making the settlement the largest ever fair lending credit card action. The CFPB did not assess a civil money penalty for the ECOA violations because the bank self-reported the potential violations, self-initiated remediation to affected borrowers, and cooperated in the investigation. The CFPB did require the bank to review its credit offering strategies and enhance fair lending training and compliance.

Add-On Product Marketing Violations

The CFPB further alleges that its examiners identified several deceptive marketing practices used by the bank to promote five credit card add-on products. The CFPB alleges that the bank’s and its service providers misrepresented the products by (i) marketing them as free of charge when the fee was avoidable only in certain specific circumstances; (ii) failing to disclose consumers’ ineligibility, causing certain consumers to purchase products from which they could receive no benefit; (iii) failing to disclose that consumers were making a purchase, leading consumers to believe they were receiving a benefit or updating their account; and (iv) marketing as a limited time offer products that were not so limited.

Under the CFPB consent order, the bank will refund $56 million to approximately 638,000 consumers who were subjected to the allegedly deceptive marketing practices, and will pay a $3.5 million civil money penalty. The bank also must develop an enhanced add-on product compliance plan that includes, among other things, a revised vendor management policy.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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