Honda has found itself in hot water in the United States over allegations of discriminatory lending practices. However the Japanese automaker's American subsidiaries are taking actions to not only alter its practices, but compensate the victims of such past discrimination.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, some Honda dealers were found to have offered less preferential loans to customers of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander ethnicities than they have offered to white customers, irrespective of their individual financial situations. The American Honda Finance Corporation has allowed dealers to mark up individual loans by two percent or more, depending on the length of the loan's contract, thereby opening the door for dealers to set interest rates at their discretion. And that discretion, according to the CFPB and the Department of Justice, has been applied in a discriminatory fashion, in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Honda, for its part, refutes the allegations and maintains that its practices have not been racially or ethnically discriminatory. The company is nevertheless taking measures to address the charges. For one thing, Honda's US financial arm is reducing the amount of wiggle-room it gives its dealers to only 1.25 percent above the buy rate for short-term loans (5 years or less), and one percent for longer-term loans. It has also set up a $24-million fund to compensate victims of the alleged discrimination, coordinating with the CFPB on the dispersal of said funds. The CFPB reports that "because of Honda's responsible conduct," it is not seeking penalties to be levied against the company for the alleged discrimination.
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STATEMENT BY AMERICAN HONDA FINANCE CORPORATION
RE: Settlement with the Department of Justice and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Jul 14, 2015 -- American Honda Finance Corporation (AHFC) has reached an agreement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that shows our commitment to work together to be part of the solution and to establish the path forward that best supports our Honda and Acura customers and dealers with clear and convenient financing options.

AHFC strongly opposes any form of discrimination, and we expect our dealers to uphold this principle as well. We firmly believe that our lending practices have been fair and transparent.

AHFC has a difference of opinion with the CFPB and the DOJ regarding the methodology used to make determinations about lending practices, but we nonetheless share a fundamental agreement in the importance of fair lending.

In cooperation with the CFPB and the DOJ, AHFC will be working closely with our Honda and Acura dealers in proactively adjusting our pricing programs to continue to give our customers the ability to choose the loan that is best for supporting their purchase of Honda and Acura products.

As part of this new program, AHFC will announce later this year adjustments to our caps for dealers in setting the rate for retail installment contracts lower than the present level. We will be implementing this change in combination with other adjustments and modifiers in a way that continues to support our Honda and Acura dealers' present business compensation with a full array of financing options.

As a result of this settlement, no civil penalties have been assessed to AHFC. The company will establish a $24 million fund that will be used to compensate customers identified by the CFPB and the DOJ.

Further, AHFC will continue to enhance our long-standing commitment to support financial literacy education and ensure that the future generation of customers is well informed about the process of automobile finance.

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Jul 14 2015
CFPB and DOJ Reach Resolution with Honda to Address Discriminatory Auto Loan Pricing
African-American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander Borrowers Will Receive $24 Million

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Department of Justice (DOJ) resolved an action with American Honda Finance Corporation that will put new measures in place to address discretionary auto loan pricing and compensation practices. Honda's past practices resulted in thousands of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers paying higher interest rates than white borrowers for their auto loans, without regard to their creditworthiness. As part of today's order, Honda will change its pricing and compensation system to substantially reduce dealer discretion and minimize the risks of discrimination, and will pay $24 million in restitution to affected borrowers.

"The CFPB is committed to creating a fair marketplace for all consumers, and other auto lenders should take note of today's action," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "Honda's proactive decision to move to a new pricing and compensation system demonstrates industry leadership and represents a significant step towards protecting consumers from discrimination."

"We commend Honda for its leadership in agreeing to impose lower caps on discretionary markups and for its commitment to treating all of its customers fairly without regard to race or national origin," said the head of DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta. "We recognize that dealerships perform a valuable service in connecting customers with lenders and that they should be fairly compensated for that service. We believe that Honda's new compensation system balances fair compensation for dealers and fair lending for consumers. We hope that Honda's leadership will spur the rest of the industry to constrain dealer markup to address discriminatory pricing."

Auto loans are the third-largest source of outstanding household debt in the United States, after mortgages and student loans. When consumers finance automobile purchases from an auto dealership, the dealer often facilitates indirect financing through a third-party lender like Honda. Honda is wholly-owned by American Honda Motor Co., Inc. It is one of the largest indirect auto lenders in the United States.

As an indirect auto lender, Honda sets a risk-based interest rate, or "buy rate," that it conveys to auto dealers. Honda then allows auto dealers to charge a higher interest rate when they finalize the deal with the consumer. This is typically called "dealer markup." Markups can generate compensation for dealers while giving them the discretion to charge consumers different rates regardless of consumer creditworthiness. Honda permitted dealers to mark-up consumers' interest rates as much as 2.25 percent for contracts with terms of 5 years or less, and 2 percent for contracts with longer terms.

Today's enforcement action is the result of a joint CFPB and DOJ investigation that began in April 2013. The agencies investigated Honda's indirect auto lending activities' compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits creditors from discriminating against loan applicants in credit transactions on the basis of characteristics such as race and national origin. The investigation concluded that Honda's policies:

- Resulted in minority borrowers paying higher dealer markups: Honda violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by charging African-American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers higher dealer markups for their auto loans than non-Hispanic white borrowers. These markups were without regard to the creditworthiness of the borrowers.

- Injured thousands of minority borrowers: Honda's discriminatory pricing and compensation structure meant thousands of minority borrowers from January 2011 through July 14, 2015 paid, on average, from $150 to over $250 more for their auto loans.

Enforcement Action

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and federal fair lending laws, authorize the CFPB and DOJ to take action against creditors engaging in discrimination. The CFPB's order was filed today as an administrative action, and DOJ's proposed order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The measures provided in the orders will help ensure that discrimination does not increase the cost of auto loans for consumers on the basis of race and national origin. Under the CFPB order, Honda must:

- Substantially reduce or eliminate entirely dealer discretion: Honda will reduce dealer discretion to mark-up the interest rate to only 1.25 percent above the buy rate for auto loans with terms of 5 years or less, and 1 percent for auto loans with longer terms. Honda also has the option under the order to move to non-discretionary dealer compensation. The Bureau did not assess penalties against Honda because of Honda's responsible conduct, namely the proactive steps the company is taking that directly address the fair lending risk of discretionary pricing and compensation systems by substantially reducing or eliminating that discretion altogether.

- Pay $24 million in damages for consumer harm: Honda will pay $24 million to a settlement fund that will go to affected African-American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers whose auto loans were financed by Honda between January 2011 and July 14, 2015.

- Administer and distribute funds to victims: Honda, through American Honda Motor Co., will contact consumers, distribute the funds, and ensure that affected borrowers receive compensation. Honda will make reports to the Bureau regarding this victim compensation activity.

In March 2013, the CFPB issued a bulletin explaining that it would hold indirect auto lenders accountable for unlawful discriminatory pricing. The bulletin also made recommendations for how indirect auto lenders could ensure that they were operating in compliance with fair lending laws. In September 2014, the Bureau issued an edition of Supervisory Highlights that explained that the Bureau's supervisory experience suggests that significantly limiting discretionary pricing adjustments may reduce or effectively eliminate pricing disparities. Substantial limits on discretionary pricing like those imposed by today's order can address the type of fair lending risk identified in the CFPB's bulletin and Supervisory Highlights.

Today's action is part of a larger joint effort between the CFPB and DOJ to address discrimination in the indirect auto lending market. In December 2013, the CFPB and DOJ took an action against Ally Financial Inc. and Ally Bank that ordered Ally to pay $80 million in consumer restitution and an $18 million civil penalty.

Today's consent order is available at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201507_cfpb_consent-order_honda.pdf

The DOJ simultaneously filed a complaint and proposed consent order to settle the case. The DOJ's announcement is available at: http://www.justice.gov/justice-news

For auto loan questions or to submit a complaint, consumers can contact the CFPB at (855) 411-2372 or visit consumerfinance.gov.

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