WASHINGTON – A California payday lender is repaying consumers around $ 800,000 to settle allegations it steered borrowers into high-interest loans and engaged in other illegal practices, officials said Monday. State.
California check-cashing stores also agreed to pay $ 105,000 in penalties and other fees under a consent order from the state Department of Business Oversight, which clamped down on payday loans and other high-cost consumer loans that critics say are predatory. The company did not admit guilt in the consent order.
North Bay’s eight locations for California check-cashing stores and Cash 1 are in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville. Owned by the privately held Community Choice Financial Inc. of Ohio, the lender has 118 branches in California.
The regulatory department, which oversees financial service providers and products, has taken similar action against four other companies since late 2017 in an effort to enforce state limits on interest rates. for payday loans and other small loans.
In Monday’s action, the settlement involves alleged violations regarding the administration of payday loans, which are capped at $ 300, and directing borrowers to consumer loans over $ 2,500 to avoid payday loans. rate caps.
California law limits loan interest to $ 2,499 between 20% and 30%, but there is no limit for loans of $ 2,500 and over.
“Directing consumers to more expensive loans to bypass legal interest rate caps is abusive,” said Jan Lynn Owen, commissioner of the Department of Business Oversight.
“Consumers deserve protection and access to credit markets that are fair, transparent and in accordance with the law,” she said.
The action comes as the newly installed head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering relaxing new federal payday loan rules that were proposed during the Obama era but have not yet come into effect.
The proposed federal rules would provide a floor of basic protections for borrowers nationwide, but states would be free to make them more stringent, including by enacting interest rate caps, which the federal office is prohibited from doing. of consumption to do.
Richard Cordray, the former head of the bureau that proposed the rules in 2017, said the decision by California regulators is another example of why the industry needs to be tightly regulated.
“The enforcement actions they are taking show that some people are really unaware of what the requirements are meant to be,” said Cordray, appointed by former President Obama as the office’s first manager.
Patrick Crowley, spokesperson for Community Choice Financial, said: “We did not agree with the conclusions of this case, but we agreed to the settlement so that we could go beyond that and start serving again. our customers in California. “
In addition to check cashing services, California stores offer payday loans, auto title loans, and prepaid debit cards, with the company touting on its website that it can help people “get money.” ‘money fast, in store or online’.
State examiners said they discovered that, from 2012 to 2017, California check-cashing stores overcharged customers’ interest and fees by directing them to loans of $ 2,500 or more to avoid bankruptcy. interest rate caps.
The settlement also resolves allegations that the company made “false and misleading statements in its advertising” by claiming in brochures that it had made loans “up to $ 5,000” but had a minimum of “$ 2,501”.
The consent order requires California check-cashing stores to repay approximately $ 100,000 related to 1,200 consumer loans.
Most of the repayments – around $ 700,000 – go to borrowers involved in 3,000 payday loans.
These loans are typically cash advances on a worker’s salary for two to four weeks and come with a fixed fee or an interest rate that doesn’t seem particularly high – $ 45 for the maximum loan of $ 300. But the cost can quickly add up if the loan is not repaid, and the effective annual interest rate can reach 300% or more.
The settlement resolves allegations that California Check Cashing Stores collected fees twice, allowed borrowers to take out a new loan before repaying the old one, and deposited some customers’ checks before the date specified in the loan agreement without their. written authorization. Typically, payday loans are repaid on the date the borrower receives another paycheck.
The consent order requires the business to check its records for loans that need to be repaid, submit a report to the state within 30 days, and send repayments within 90 days. Current customers will receive a credit for the repayment amount, those with a balance less than the repayment amount or who have repaid the loan will receive a check.
State officials said customers should contact the company if they think they need a refund.
The deal comes after the state agency has reached deals since late 2017 with four other companies – Advance America, Check Into Cash, Quick Cash Funding and Speedy Cash – over various practices that the agency said aimed to push loans above the $ 2,500 threshold.
The state has taken aggressive action to curb payday lenders as efforts to more tightly regulate the industry came to a halt after President Trump was elected. The president has sought to expand his deregulation program at CFPB, since Cordray stepped down in late 2017 to pursue what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for Ohio governor.
New federal rules developed under Cordray require payday lenders to pre-determine the ability of potential borrowers to repay payday loans and other short-term loans of 45 days or less.
Current White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who replaced acting Cordray, asked a federal judge in November to postpone the August 2019 effective date for most of the rules due to potential changes he wanted to make.
Last month, Kathy Kraninger, Mulvaney’s former White House assistant, took on permanent leadership of the office after being confirmed by the Senate.