A Florida couple has filed a lawsuit against Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) over its “Early Access” deposit-advance program.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, claims that the fee collected by the Cincinnati company amounts to an illegally high interest rate. The lawsuit also claims that the couple paid Fifth Third nearly $500 for short-term deposit-advance loans, which equates to an annual percentage rate of over 1000% on some of the loans. Fifth Third claims in documentation for the program that the fee is equivalent to an APR of 120%.
The litigation, which is seeking class-action status, asks for at least $5 million in damages, and asks that Fifth Third be prevented from charging interest rates higher than what federal law permits.
A similar lawsuit was filed against Fifth Third last August. In that case, the plaintiffs argued that the fees for the company’s Early Access program violate Ohio’s 25% APR limit.
Fifth Third’s Early Access program functions like a payday loan, but is available only to customers who make regular direct deposits to the Fifth Third accounts. The company charges $10 for every $100 loaned, and allows account holders to take out a maximum loan of $1000.
Fifth Third’s claim of a 120% APR is calculated by multiplying the 10% rate by 12 months. But the lawsuit filed Tuesday argues that this is misleading, since most customers pay back the loan in much less than one month. The program is safer for Fifth Third than a typical payday loan, the lawsuit claims, because the company “has direct access to its customers’ checking accounts and the ability to pay itself back immediately with customers’ next direct deposit.”
Fifth Third does not comment on ongoing litigation, a bank spokeswoman said.
The lawsuit comes as Senate Democrats are urging regulators to crack down on high-interest, short-term loans. Several other banks, including Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp and Regions, offer similar deposit-advance programs.
Recently, several startups have launched with plans to reinvent short-term lending.