December 22, 2020 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a consent order that Discover must pay at least $10 million to consumers, and $25 million as a penalty for their unfair acts and practices. Below is a reprint of the CFPB’s announcement and Order.
The Bureau previously issued a consent order against Discover in July 2015 (2015 Order). The Bureau’s 2015 Order was based on the Bureau’s finding that Discover misstated the minimum amounts due on billing statements as well as tax information consumers needed to get federal income tax benefits. The Bureau also found that Discover engaged in illegal debt collection practices. The Bureau’s 2015 Order required Discover to refund $16 million to consumers, pay a penalty, and fix its unlawful practices servicing and collection practices. The Bureau found that Discover violated the 2015 Order’s requirements in several ways. Discover misrepresented the minimum loan payments consumers owed, the amount of interest consumers paid, and other material information, such as interest rates, payments, due dates, and the availability of rewards, among other things. Discover also did not provide all of the consumer redress the 2015 Order required.
The Bureau found that Discover engaged in unfair acts and practices by withdrawing payments from more than 17,000 consumers’ accounts without valid authorization and by cancelling or not withdrawing payments for more than 14,000 consumers without notifying them. This conduct violated the CFPA, EFTA, and Regulation E. The Bureau also found that Discover engaged in deceptive acts and practices in violation of the CFPA by misrepresenting to more than 100,000 consumers the minimum payment owed and to more than 8,000 consumers the amount of interest paid. Some consumers ended up paying more than they owed, others became late or delinquent because they could not pay the overstated amount, while others may have filed inaccurate tax returns.
Today’s order prohibits Discover from making any misrepresentations about minimum payments consumers owe, the amount of interest consumers paid, and other material servicing terms. The order also prohibits Discover from withdrawing loan payments from consumers’ bank accounts in amounts or at times not authorized by consumers.
Most students in higher-education are looking for ways to improve their future, and that of their family. Yes, there are a few who see student loans as “free money” and damn the consequences of taking out these loans. But, I am going to ignore that group and focus on the honest borrowers.
Honest borrowers assume that their student loan lender will be honest and treat them with respect. Unfortunately, we are seeing time after time that the banks and student loan companies and servicers just see the borrowers as easy marks and cash registers. Among other things, they mislead the borrowers about the cost of the loans and about the options to work out payments during difficult times. The successful future of our country depends on quality education for everyone. Right now student loan lenders are preying on the most vulnerable members of our society – those who see higher education as the path to a better life, but cannot afford to pay for that costly education.
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