Owning a car means putting up with various levels of headache, but there’s one nightmare that haunts us all: unexpected expensive repairs. And where there are big, stressful, time-sensitive bills, there are shady entities waiting to take desperate people’s money. Consumer Reports is warning customers about a new trend in overcharging: big auto repair chains like Jiffy Lube, AAMCO, Meineke, Midas and Precision Tune Auto Care offering payment plans through shady loan companies charging predatory interest rates, targeting poor people with bad credit at their most desperate.
It works like this: While most states have caps on interest rates to prevent predatory lending, some still allow banks to charge whatever they want. EasyPay Finance, a loan company mentioned in the CR report, uses Transportation Alliance Bank, which operates out of Utah where no interest rate caps exist. Customers who can’t afford the cost of a repair, who have no other forms of credit, are offered the option to finance the shop bill through EasyPay on the understanding that, if the bill is paid off within 90 days, they won’t be charged interest. After those three months, the ludicrous interest rates—up to 189 percent—and hidden fees begin to pile on.
There are hundreds of unverified complaints on websites like the Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Even when the customer pays off the balance within the 90-day period (or tries to), EasyPay doesn’t always hold up its end of the bargain. From CR:
[C]onsumer complaints against EasyPay Finance and its parent company Duvera Billing Services, LLC, based in Vista, Calif., allege that the company makes it almost impossible for consumers to pay off the loans in time and that the company charged consumers unexpected fees or interest. One complaint on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s database describes how payment issues due to an alleged clerical error invalidated the 90-day interest-free deal—regardless of good-faith efforts by the consumer to clarify the issue. “He told me he already had my correct debit card number because I gave it to him to pay for the application fee,” says the 2018 complaint. “I also have two receipts showing that he had the correct debit card number because he used it to charge a [$500.00] deposit and to run the [$90.00] application fee. I knew nothing about the input error and have tried to correct it. I have talked to three different people at . . . and they refuse to honor the 90 same as cash.”A company response listed on this complaint says: “Company believes it acted appropriately as authorized by contractor law.”
Consumer Reports reached out to several of the large auto repair chains to find out more about EasyPay. The companies that responded told CR most of their shops are franchisees, with individual shop owners deciding which financing options to offer their customers. EasyPay did not respond to CR’s requests for comment.
We all like cars here, but I’m starting to resent the amount of bullshit involved in car ownership, especially since owning a car is a requirement for so many Americans. One in three people in the U.S. don’t have a few hundred dollars on hand for an unexpected car repair (or any other surprise expense). And it’s not like folks can just go out and buy a new used car—prices have gone up 40 percent compared to a year ago, with the average used car now costing $27,500. It’s hard to blame poor folks for getting caught up in predatory schemes like these when there are so few other options.
For more info on these predatory car-repair loans, and how to avoid them, check out the full Consumer Reports article here.