On March 16, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced a $7.4 million settlement with two national auto lenders, American Credit Acceptance LLC (“ACA”) and Westlake Services LLC (“Westlake”).  The settlement resolves claims against the lenders that they charged excessive interest rates on subprime automotive loans.  ACA settled for $1.7 million, and Westlake for $5.7 million.  Notably, the loans giving rise to the investigation did not originate with the two lenders involved but instead were purchased by ACA and Westlake.

As part of the settlement, ACA and Westlake must “eliminate interest on certain loans they purchased that allegedly included excessive interest rates due to the inclusion of so-called GAP coverage.”  Guaranteed auto protection, or “GAP,” coverage refers to “a product that is intended to limit the shortfall between the payment on an auto insurance claim and the amount the borrower owes on a car loan in the event the financed vehicle is totaled.”  GAP coverage is commonly sold as an add-on at the time of vehicle sale and is frequently financed with the remainder of the purchase price.  Additionally, ACA and Westlake must forgive outstanding interest on the loans, which allegedly included terms permitting them to charge interest rates exceeding Massachusetts’ 21 percent limit.  Lastly, the companies must reimburse consumers for interest already paid.

Settlement monies will be distributed to over 2,000 Massachusetts consumers, each of whom will receive approximately $3,000, and the companies will also be responsible for $225,000 in administrative costs to implement the settlement agreements.

According to the Massachusetts A.G.’s Office, this settlement is a continuation of its year-long efforts to crack down on interest rates exceeding the state’s cap.  Companies with substantial automotive loan portfolios in the Bay State should exercise caution and continue to monitor the A.G.’s enforcement actions in this area.

Troutman Sanders LLP has extensive experience representing lenders in the auto finance industry, and will continue to monitor CFPB and other regulatory activity in this area.