FROM: U.S. FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
In First FTC Cases Against Car Title Lenders, Companies Settle Charges They Deceptively Advertised the Cost of Their Loans
Businesses Failed to Disclose Qualifications for “Zero Percent” Loan Offers
January 30, 2015
The Federal Trade Commission has taken action for the first time against two car title lenders, reaching settlements that will require them to stop their use of deceptive advertising to market title loans.
A car title loan is typically a high cost, short-term loan, secured with the consumer’s car title. In administrative complaints issued against two title lenders, First American Title Lending of Georgia, LLC, and Finance Select, Inc., the FTC charged that the companies advertised, both online and in print, zero percent interest rates for a 30-day car title loan without disclosing important loan conditions or the increased finance charge imposed after the introductory period ended.
“This type of loan is risky for consumers because if they fail to pay, they could lose their car – an asset many of them can’t live without,” said Jessica Rich, director, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Without proper disclosures, consumers can’t know what they’re getting, so when we see deceptive marketing of these loans we’re going to take action to stop it.”
While advertised as short-term loans, title loans can become longer-term, high cost installment loans with payments due over several months. The annual percentage rate of a car title loan can be over 300 percent. If a consumer does not repay the loan within 30 days, high finance charges can add up quickly, with a consumer paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees or forfeiting the vehicle.
The FTC charged that First American Title Lending, which operates over 30 locations in Georgia, advertised a zero percent offer (in English and Spanish) and failed to disclose that the borrower had to meet specific conditions to receive that rate. The borrower had to be a new customer, repay the loan within 30 days, and pay with a money order or certified funds, not cash or a personal check. If a borrower failed to meet those conditions, the offer did not apply, and he or she would be required to pay a finance charge from the start of the loan. The company’s advertisements also failed to disclose the amount of the finance charge after the introductory period ended.
The FTC alleged Finance Select, doing business as Fast Cash Title Pawn, failed to disclose that unless a loan was paid in full in 30 days, the zero percent offer did not apply, and that a borrower would have to pay a finance charge for the initial 30 days of the loan in addition to any finance charges incurred going forward. Fast Cash, which has five locations across Georgia and two in Alabama, also failed to disclose how much the finance charge would cost a borrower after the 30-day introductory period was over.
As part of the proposed settlements with First American Title Lending and Fast Cash Title Pawn, the respondents are prohibited from:
failing to disclose all the qualifying terms associated with obtaining a loan at its advertised rate;
failing to disclose what the finance charge would be after an introductory period ends; and
misrepresenting any material terms of any loan agreements.
In addition, First American Title Lending is also prohibited from stating the amount of any down payment, number of payments or periods of repayment, or the amount of any payment or finance charge without clearly and conspicuously stating all the terms required by the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z.
These cases are part of the FTC’s ongoing effort to protect consumers in the short-term lending and auto marketplaces. The agency’s guidance, Caution: Car Title Loans Can Leave You Stranded, encourages consumers to shop around for their loan, and to look to their bank or other lenders for options that may be more affordable than a car title loan.
The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaints and accept the proposed consent orders for public comment was 5-0. The agreements will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through March 3, 2015, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent orders final. Submit comments for Fast Cash Title Pawn and First American Title Lending online.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.