CFPB Takes Action Against Auto Seller Financing, Construes Failure to Negotiate as Hidden Finance Charge

By: Todd C. Smith

On January 21, 2016, The CFPB (the “Bureau”) issued Consent Order Y King S Corp., d/b/a Herbies Auto Sales, finding various violations of the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601 et seq., and Regulation Z, 12 C.F.R. Part 1026; and the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA), 12 U.S.C. §§ 5531, 5536. (2016-CFPB-0001 (Jan. 16, 2016).) Among other violations, the Bureau found that Herbies Auto Sales (“Herbies) failed to accurately disclose the finance charge and annual percentage rate for financing agreements, as well as certain costs and discounts that should have been construed as finance charges. Cash purchasers were notably exempt from many of these costs. The Bureau also found that Herbies took unreasonable advantage of consumers, who were unable to protect their interests in selecting and obtaining financing for used car purchases.

Herbies’ sales practices also drew condemnation by the Bureau, which found purchasers’ ability to meaningfully comparison shop frustrated by Herbies’ policy of not disclosing the sale price of a vehicle until after credit purchasers had agreed to buy the car chosen for them, based on Herbies’ calculation of the monthly payment each credit purchaser could bear.

While the majority of the remedial portion of the Consent Order appears narrowly applicable to Herbies—including the requirement that Herbies obtain a signed acknowledgment of receipt of specific disclosures relating to the sale price and finance terms of future sales— the Bureau’s most significant determination may be its decision to construe the gap in average purchase price between cash and credit purchasers as a hidden finance charge in the form of a discount offered to cash purchasers. This decision to hold Herbies responsible for the disparity in bargaining power between cash and credit buyers may prove more significant to other targets of the Bureau’s enforcement activity going forward. It remains to be seen whether the Bureau will extrapolate its findings to other contexts outside of used car sales, in which cash and credit are used for consumer purchases.

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