A Savannah based company that owns TitleMax is being fined $9 million for what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says was “tricking consumers into more costly loans.”
CFP) is taking action against against TitleMax parent company TMX Finance LLc for “luring consumers into costly loan renewals by presenting them with misleading information about the deals’ terms and costs.”
The CFPB also says TitleMax used unfair debt collection tactics that illegally exposed information about debts to borrowers’ employers, friends, and family. The Bureau is ordering TMX Finance to stop its unlawful practices and pay a $9 million penalty.
“TMX Finance lured consumers into more expensive loans with information that hid the true costs of the deal,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “They then followed up with intrusive visits to homes and workplaces that put consumers’ personal information at risk. Today we are making it clear that these actions were unacceptable and illegal.”
TMX Finance LLC (Company) responded by saying it has reached a settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which concludes the CFPB’s three-year review of various aspects of the Company’s business operations saying in part it “has been transparent and cooperative with the CFPB. Without admitting any of the CFPB’s findings of fact or conclusions of law, the Company has agreed to pay a civil money penalty of $9 million as part of the settlement. The payment will be reflected in the Company’s quarterly financial statements for the quarter ending September 30, 2016. Unlike consent orders that the CFPB has previously entered into with other companies within the emergency credit space, this order does not require the Company to pay any restitution to customers.”
The CFPB says that TMX Finance, which is based in Savannah, is one of the country’s largest auto title lenders, with more than 1,300 storefronts in 18 states. TMX Finance offers title and personal loans through a host of state subsidiaries under the names TitleMax, TitleBucks, and InstaLoan. Single-payment auto title loans are usually due in 30 days, with some carrying an annual percentage rate of up to 300 percent. To qualify for the loan, a consumer must bring in a lien-free vehicle and its title as collateral.
The CFPB says it found that store employees, as part of their sales pitch for the 30-day loans, offered consumers a “monthly option” for making loan payments. They then offered consumers a “Voluntary Payback Guide” that showed how to repay the loan with smaller payments over a longer time period. But the guide and sales pitch did not explain the true cost of the loan if the consumer renewed it multiple times. TMX Finance employees also unlawfully exposed sensitive personal information during “field visits” to consumers’ homes, references, and places of employment in attempts to collect debt. The order addresses a period from July 21, 2011 to the present. Specifically, the Bureau found that TMX Finance:
** Presented consumers with misleading information about loan terms: TMX Finance employees asked consumers how much they wanted to pay each month or how long they wanted to take to pay off the 30-day loan. The guide and sales pitch distracted consumers from the fact that repeatedly renewing the loan, as encouraged by TMX Finance employees, would dramatically increase the loan’s cost. The guide does not calculate fees or the total cost to consumers of repeatedly renewing the loan instead of repaying it in 30 days. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a consumer to compare costs for renewing the loan over a given period,
** Exposed information about consumers’ debts to co-workers, neighbors, and family members: Some TMX Finance employees revealed information about consumers’ past-due debt while visiting consumers’ homes, references, or places of employment. TMX Finance also made in-person debt collection attempts despite knowing that visitors were not permitted at the consumer’s workplace. Such visits can damage consumers’ reputations, interfere with their ability to do their jobs, and trigger disciplinary action or firing.
The company has been ordered to:
** Stop abusive loan-repayment policies: TMX Finance cannot use any payback guide or similar document and cannot misrepresent the terms, length, or cost of the loan. It also cannot encourage consumers to take longer to pay than the term of the original loan.
** Stop intrusive visits to consumers’ homes or workplaces: TMX Finance cannot make in-person visits to the homes of consumers or their workplaces to collect payments. To make sure the company follows through, TMX Finance must submit a compliance plan for the Bureau’s approval within 60 days of the order.
** Pay a $9 million penalty: TMX Finance will pay a penalty of $9 million to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.
TMX officials said the federal agency’s investigation centered on a number of concerns and the “prior use of in-person collections visits to consumers.” But the company says since 2015, its lending subsidiaries have prohibited in-person collections activities at consumer residences and places of employment. In order to conclude the investigation, the Company’s lending subsidiaries also will discontinue using the voluntary payback guide, which was designed to assist customers in understanding the ramifications of renewing or extending their 30-day credit transactions
“This resolution of the CFPB’s investigation addresses and mitigates the CFPB’s identified concerns while allowing us to continue meeting the urgent financial needs of our customers. Many of our customers have nowhere else to turn when they suffer from short-term financial setbacks like medical emergencies or home repairs, and we are committed to remaining a reliable source of credit for them when the need arises,” said Otto Bielss, President of the TMX Finance Family of Companies. “We continue to focus on enhancing and strengthening our compliance program to support responsible lending practices and our compliance with applicable state and federal consumer lending and consumer protection laws.”