Payday lender Cash America International will pay up to $19 million to settle allegations that it robo-signed court documents, overcharged members of the military, and took steps to impede an examination by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The consent order with Cash America is the CFPB's first enforcement action against a payday lender, and it hits one of the industry's biggest companies. Cash America is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (CSH), operates more than 900 locations in the United States and Mexico, and runs a large online lending operation.
Under an agreement announced Wednesday, Cash America will refund up to $14 million to consumers, including about $6 million that has already been paid back. The company will also pay a $5 million fine.
According to the CFPB, Cash America's debt collection subsidiary in Ohio, Cashland Financial Services, filed court documents in debt collection lawsuits without complying with the required signature rules. An estimated 14,000 consumers were affected.
The CFPB also alleges that Cash America violated the Military Lending Act, which caps interest rates on certain short-term loans to servicemembers at 36%. More than 300 servicemembers and their dependents were affected, according to the consumer agency.
Finally, the CFPB alleges that Cash America "carelessly destroyed records" during a routine examination by the consumer bureau that began in July 2012.
The company's online lending arm, Enova Financial, continued to shred documents after the CFPB told it to stop, and it deleted recorded phone calls with consumers, among other misconduct, according to the CFPB.
"This action brings justice to the Cash America customers who were affected by illegal robo-signing, and shows that we will vigilantly protect the consumer rights that servicemembers have earned," Richard Cordray, the CFPB's director, said in a press release. "We are also sending a clear message today to all companies under our watch that impeding a CFPB exam by destroying documents, withholding records, and instructing employees to mislead examiners is unacceptable."
Cash America had been expecting the consent order. The firm informed analysts last month that the CFPB had provided notification of a potential enforcement action.
A Cash America spokeswoman did not immediately provide comment Wednesday, saying that the firm would provide a statement following a CFPB conference call that was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET.
Lauren Saunders, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, said the enforcement action sends a message that the CFPB will not tolerate abusive debt collection tactics.
"Payday lending is an inherently unaffordable, predatory form of lending that frequently leads to some of the worst, most abusive debt collection practices," Saunders said in an email.