Indirect Lending and the CFPB

Earlier this week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued guidelines for how indirect auto lenders can avoid violating the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).  In recent months, the CFPB focused on auto lenders potential violations of the ECOA.

The ECOA prohibits lenders from discriminating against borrowers based on specific protected classes which include race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status or age. Allegations of violations of ECOA arise when similarly situated consumers are provided different credit opportunities, and an allegation is made that the different credit opportunity arose because of a consumer’s protected class status.  While other factors may contribute to the difference in credit offered, the financial institution bears the burden of proof of establishing that the different credit was based on factors other than race, color, religion, national original, sex, marital status or age.

Indirect auto lending occurs when a consumer seeks financing directly at the car dealership.  The car dealer uses information about the consumer and applies for financing with various financial institutions.  The financial institution then evaluates the consumer and either agrees to provide financing or passes on offering financing.  Some financial institutions give parameters to the car dealer, such as that they will buy the loan at a set interest rate, but the dealer may charge additional interest or a reserve, which they will keep as a profit.

The CFPB is primarily concerned with situations where the dealer charges additional interest or a reserve.  The concern is that members of protected classes may be charged higher rates for their loans, which may violate ECOA.

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