U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) and four other members of the powerful Senate Budget Committee have urged the federal government’s consumer watchdog to follow up on alleged abusive practices by TitleMax, the Savannah-based company that offers short-term loans in exchange for a lien on the title of the borrower’s car.
In a letter last week to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that cited recent reporting (here and here) by The Current and ProPublica, Luján said TitleMax, the nation’s largest title lender, continues to use “dubious sales techniques” to lure consumers into costly loan renewals by presenting them with misleading information about the deals’ terms and costs.
Those business practices have persisted, the letter said, even though the federal regulator in 2016 fined TitleMax’s parent company, TMX Finance LLC, $9 million, and placed it under a consent decree because of the company’s violations of federal law in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.
“We are deeply concerned that TMX Finance’s predatory behavior concerning title loans continued while under an active consent decree and seek further information on whether this new order will prevent similar predatory behavior going forward,” Luján wrote in the March 16 letter, which was co-signed by Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.)
Jamie Lane, TMX Finance’s vice president of communications and brand experience, didn’t respond to a request on Monday for comment on the senators’ letter.
TMX Finance describes itself as a community resource to its 293,000 customers, people written off as credit risks by traditional lending institutions but who need financing to pay for life’s basic needs. Georgia is the company’s second-largest market.
Still, the call by five members of the Senate Budget Committee for tighter reins on TMX Finance is the latest headache for the company.
Describing TMX Finance as a “repeat offender,” the federal consumer regulatory bureau last month fined it $15 million, saying the Georgia-based title lender illegally made thousands of auto loans to military borrowers over a five-year period, often charging interest rates well above legal limits.
Those loans, some of which were made in Georgia, are illegal under the federal Military Lending Act, which caps at 36% the amount of annual interest that financial services companies can charge service members and their families. In Georgia state law allows title lenders to charge up to 187% annual interest, a rate that is three times more than what is legal for other financial lenders in the state.
Legislation introduced by state Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) that would reform how TitleMax and other title-lending companies operate in Georgia foundered in the Georgia General Assembly last month, never receiving a vote in the House Banks and Banking Committee.