WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a bulletin explaining that certain lenders that offer auto loans through dealerships are responsible for unlawful, discriminatory pricing. Potentially discriminatory markups in auto lending may result in tens of millions of dollars in consumer harm each year, and the bulletin provides guidance to indirect auto lenders within the CFPB’s jurisdiction on how to address fair lending risk.
“Consumers should not have to pay more for a car loan simply based on their race,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today’s bulletin clarifies our authority to pursue auto lenders whose policies harm consumers through unlawful discrimination.”
When consumers finance automobile purchases from an auto dealership, the dealer often facilitates indirect financing through a third party lender. The dealer plays a valuable role by originating the loan and finding financing sources. In this indirect auto financing process, the lender usually provides the dealer with an interest rate that the lender will accept for a given consumer.
Indirect auto lenders often allow the dealer to charge the consumer an interest rate that is costlier for the consumer than the rate the lender gave the dealer. This increase in rate is typically called “dealer markup.” The lender shares part of the revenue from that increased interest rate with the dealer. As a result, markups generate compensation for dealers while frequently giving them the discretion to charge consumers different rates regardless of consumer creditworthiness. Lender policies that provide dealers with this type of discretion increase the risk of pricing disparities among consumers based on race, national origin, and potentially other prohibited bases. Research indicates that markup practices may lead to African Americans and Hispanics being charged higher markups than other, similarly situated, white consumers.
Today’s bulletin explains how the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) applies to indirect auto lending. The bulletin also provides guidance for indirect auto lenders on ways to limit fair lending risk. The ECOA makes it illegal for a creditor to discriminate in any aspect of a credit transaction on prohibited bases including race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, and age. The CFPB recommends that indirect auto lenders within its jurisdiction take steps to ensure that they are operating in compliance with fair lending laws as applied to dealer markup and compensation policies. These steps may include, but are not limited to:
- Imposing controls on dealer markup, or otherwise revising dealer markup policies;
- Monitoring and addressing the effects of markup policies as part of a robust fair lending compliance program; and
- Eliminating dealer discretion to markup buy rates, and fairly compensating dealers using a different mechanism that does not result in discrimination, such as flat fees per transaction.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.