The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has announced two separate actions against Fifth Third Bank, for discriminatory auto loan pricing and for illegal credit card practices. The joint CFPB and Department of Justice (DOJ) auto-lending enforcement action requires Fifth Third to change its pricing and compensation system to minimize the risks of discrimination, and to pay $18 million to harmed African-American and Hispanic borrowers.
The CFPB’s action against Fifth Third’s deceptive marketing of credit card add-on products requires the bank to provide an estimated $3 million in relief to eligible harmed consumers and pay a $500,000 penalty.
“We are committed to promoting fair and equal access to credit in the auto finance marketplace,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Fifth Third’s move to a new pricing and compensation system represents a significant step toward protecting consumers from discrimination. We are also obtaining millions of dollars in relief today for consumers affected by deceptive marketing of credit add-on products.”
Fifth Third Bank is a regional bank and insured depository institution. It is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, primarily serving states in the Midwest and Southeast. The bank operates approximately 1,300 branches in 12 states, offering financial services including credit cards, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and auto loans.
Auto-Lending Enforcement Action
Auto loans are the third-largest source of outstanding household debt in the United States, after mortgages and student loans. When consumers finance automobile purchases from an auto dealership, the dealer often facilitates indirect financing through a third-party lender like Fifth Third, which is the ninth largest depository indirect auto lender in the United States.
As an indirect auto lender, Fifth Third sets a risk-based interest rate, or “buy rate,” that it conveys to auto dealers. The bank then allows auto dealers to charge a higher interest rate when they finalize the deal with the consumer. This is typically called “dealer markup.” Markups can generate compensation for dealers while giving them the discretion to charge consumers different rates regardless of consumer creditworthiness. Over the time period under review, Fifth Third permitted dealers to mark up consumers’ interest rates as much as 2.5 percent. According to CFPB, Fifth Third’s actions:
- Resulted in minority borrowers paying higher dealer markups: Fifth Third violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by charging African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher dealer markups for their auto loans than non-Hispanic white borrowers. These markups were without regard to the creditworthiness of the borrowers
- Injured thousands of minority borrowers: Fifth Third’s illegal discriminatory pricing and compensation structure meant thousands of minority borrowers from January 2010 through September 2015 were charged, on average, over $200 more for their auto loans.
Under the CFPB order, Fifth Third must:
- Substantially reduce or eliminate entirely dealer discretion: Fifth Third will reduce dealer discretion to mark up the interest rate to only 1.25 percent above the buy rate for auto loans with terms of 5 years or less, and 1 percent for auto loans with longer terms. Fifth Third also has the option under the order to move to non-discretionary dealer compensation.
- Pay $18 million in damages for consumer harm: Fifth Third will pay $12 million into a settlement fund that will go to harmed African-American and Hispanic borrowers whose auto loans were financed by Fifth Third between January 2010 and September 2015. Based on a determination by the DOJ and the CFPB, Fifth Third will receive credit of between $5 million and $6 million for remediation it has already provided to harmed consumers whose auto loans were financed by Fifth Third from January 2010 through June 2015. Fifth Third will then pay any additional funds necessary into the settlement fund to bring its total payment to harmed consumers to $18 million.
- Pay to hire a settlement administrator to distribute funds to victims: A settlement administrator will contact consumers, distribute the funds, and ensure that borrowers who were harmed receive compensation. The Bureau will provide contact information for the settlement administrator once that person is chosen to address questions that consumers may have about potential payments.
The CFPB’s order also requires that Fifth Third provide $3 million in relief to roughly 24,500 customers, cease engaging in illegal practices, and pay a $500,000 penalty to the CFPB civil penalty fund.