BofA Said in Settlement Talks Over Credit-Card ProductsCarter Dougherty
Bank of America Corp. is negotiating with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to settle allegations it deceived customers in the sales of credit-card add-on products, according to two people briefed on the talks.
A deal isn’t imminent as the agency and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America wrangle over the terms of the settlement, the people said. One person said a sticking point is the restitution the bank would pay to customers who were charged for the products, which include credit monitoring and debt cancellation products.
A final agreement with Bank of America could begin winding down an industrywide investigation that the consumer bureau started with its first enforcement action, against Capital One Financial Corp. in July 2012. Capital One paid $210 million in penalties and restitution, and accepted restrictions on how it markets the products.
Including Bank of America, the CFPB’s investigation has reached all of the top six credit-card issuers, which account for 68 percent of the market by loans outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The agency also reached settlements with American Express Co., Discover Financial Services and JPMorgan Chase & Co. In March, Citigroup Inc. said it may face penalties from U.S. regulators over the sale of the products.
Bank of America, as did much of the industry, stopped offering the monitoring products, which promise to inform customers of changes in their credit record or identity theft. At the end of 2011 it ended sales of debt-protection products, which ease payment obligations in case of job loss or other major life changes, in August 2012.
In the talks with the consumer bureau, Bank of America is resisting pressure to pay restitution at the levels sought by the agency because it already reimbursed some consumers for the products, according to one of the people briefed on the negotiations. Both people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.
The bank has “mostly” refunded customers who “did not receive the full benefits” of the credit monitoring product, spokeswoman Anne Pace said in an interview. Many customers who used a debt protection program received restitution via a class-action lawsuit, Pace said.
She declined to comment on the status of negotiations with the consumer bureau. Consumer bureau spokesman Sam Gilford also declined to comment.
In the other cases, the consumer bureau penalized banks for allegedly deceptive marketing of the products. For example, telemarketers, which included call centers run by contractors for the banks, spoke very rapidly to customers or enrolled them without their knowledge.
The add-on products have also faced criticism from consumer groups who say they are inherently worthless. The debt cancellation product doesn’t pay off for consumers, according to the Austin, Texas-based Center for Economic Justice, while the credit monitoring service duplicates information customers can get for free, according to the National Consumer Law Center.