WASHINGTON - The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, charging Associates First Capital Corp. of Irving, Tex., and its Associates Corp. of North America subsidiary with "systematic and widespread abusive lending practices."

The FTC alleges that Associates - a subprime lending subsidiary of Citigroup Inc. - violated the Federal Trade Commission Act through deceptive marketing practices that induced consumers to refinance debt into home loans with high interest rates, costs, and fees, as well as high-cost credit life insurance.

In addition, the FTC charged Associates with using unfair tactics in collecting loan payments and violating several other federal laws, including the Truth in Lending Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

The complaint also names Citigroup Inc. and CitiFinancial Credit as defendants.

Associates "hid essential information from consumers, misrepresented loan terms, flipped loans, and packed optional fees to raise the costs of the loans," Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said in a release.

The company has drawn fire for years from consumer groups, many of which charge that it is one of the most predatory lenders in the market.

Citigroup purchased Associates for about $31 billion late last year.

A Citigroup spokesman called the complaint "counterproductive" and said that since it announced the acquisition last fall it has been working hard to resolve concerns about Associates' former practices.

He said that the company has implemented CitiFinancial operations and compliance systems throughout Associates' branches and has established processes through which customers can have grievances or problems addressed.

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