Advanta Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Advanta Corp., once one of the largest credit card lenders to small businesses, filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday night. The Spring House (Pa.) company’s main operation that issued credit cards, Advanta Bank Corp, is not part of the filing. But Advanta said that unit doesn’t have the capital required by regulators and may be taken over by the FDIC.

Advanta listed assets of $363 million and debts of $331 million, and said that over time it would not be able to meet its obligations.

Banking entities in distress are handled by their regulators, not in the bankruptcy courts, which is why Advanta Bank Corp. isn’t part of the filing. Advanta said the bank subsidiary, which cut off all new lending in May, is currently collecting $2.7 billion in credit card receivables from 360,000 account holders. (Advanta’s statement is here.) Advanta also said that the parent company deliberately allowed the Advanta Bank Corp. to fall below regulatory capital requirements to preserve the funds for the parent company’s creditors. That means Advanta Bank Corp. — which is the entity that 360,000 small business borrowers still owe money to — is likely to be taken over by the FDIC or sold off to another bank shortly. Borrowers trying to renegotiate their payments with Advanta could be negotiating with a different bank in the near future.

Advanta became notorious among small business borrowers for offering credit cards at attractive low interest rates and then raising APRs steeply, often to over 30%. The company stopped all new credit card lending in May and entered into a settlement with the FDIC over the interest rate hikes, which the regulator said constituted unfair and deceptive practices. (Advanta didn’t admit or deny liability in the settlement.) When settlement checks began arriving in September, the average settlement of $131 seemed laughable to many business owners who were still paying sky-high interest on thousands of dollars of charges they made under the initial low rates. At least one group filed a lawsuit seeking class action status. (An Advanta spokesman declined to comment about any pending litigation.)

Advanta isn’t just in trouble with borrowers. Shareholders have seen Advanta stock drop from a high of over $30 in 2007 to pennies today. Jeff Blumenthal of the Philadelphia Business Journal has a good run down of the suits against Advanta, including a class action by common stockholders. From his story:

The complaint says Advanta concealed that its assets contained tens of millions of dollars worth of impaired credit-card receivables for which the company had not accrued losses; it had been extremely aggressive in granting credit to customers without verifying the customers’ ability to pay, to such a degree that by last summer, Advanta customers’ default rate would be almost six times worse than industry average; Advanta’s manipulation of its cash rewards program angered customers and caused it to lose good, creditworthy customers; Advanta’s credit receivables were unduly risky because of the company’s practice of issuing credit cards to small business owners without, in many instances, verifying income; and Advanta failed to properly account for its continuing delinquent customers and the credit trends in its portfolio, resulting ultimately in large charges to reflect impairments.

It’s unclear whether Advanta will have anything left for plaintiffs to collect if these lawsuits go forward. The company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, but if the FDIC takes over the banking subsidiary than most of Advanta’s operations are gone. Chapter 11 may be a way of doing an “orderly liquidation” rather than a true reorganization.

One interesting note: If the FDIC takes over the bank subsidiary and has a claim against the Advanta parent company for failing to maintain minimum capital requirements, that claim gets priority over other unsecured creditors, according to Robert Lawless, bankruptcy law professor at University of Illinois and blogger at Credit Slips.

[Update: An earlier version of this post said that Advanta Bank Corp. fell below FDIC capital requirements. The capital requirements are actually set by banking regulators in Utah where Advanta Bank Corp. is chartered. It’s also worth noting that as of June 30 about 2% of U.S. banks were considered undercapitalized, according to the FDIC. Regulators push banks into FDIC receivership based on different triggers, and in this case it’s up to Utah authorities to determine if and when they will do so with Advanta Bank Corp.]

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