DALLAS — Santander Consumer USA has agreed to pay a total of $26 million to settle charges the company’s auto finance division violated consumer protection laws in the State of Delaware and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The agreement is the result of a joint investigation conducted by the offices of Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. In a statement, Healey said the investigation revealed Santander financed subprime car buyers without a “reasonable basis to believe” they would be repaid as agreed, and that Santander was aware dealers submitted credit applications that included incorrect or inflated incomes.
“We found that Santander, a leading player in the business of packaging and reselling subprime auto loans, funded unfair and unaffordable auto loans for more than 2,000 Massachusetts residents,” Healey said. “This first-in-the-nation settlement relating to subprime auto loan funding will provide relief to thousands of car buyers in Massachusetts and prevent these practices from being used against our residents.”
In a separate statement, Denn added, in part, “We are pleased that this settlement results in significant consumer relief and provisions that will prevent similar misconduct in the future. We will continue to pursue investigations in this area to ensure that Delaware consumers receive a fair deal when they are extended credit to finance a purchase.”
In an email sent to F&I and Showroom, a Santander spokesman described the agreement as “voluntary” and neither admitted nor denied the allegations put forth by the attorneys general. The spokesman said the investigation was limited to “past dealer management and underwriting practices” from 2009 to 2014, and that the company relied upon information submitted by dealers and customers to make financing decisions.
“We are pleased to put this matter behind us so we can move forward and continue to focus on serving our customers. Santander Consumer is totally committed to treating customers fairly. In the last 18 months, our new management team has taken significant steps to strengthen our business practices and controls,” the spokesman said. “Today’s voluntary agreement with the attorneys general of Delaware and Massachusetts, which resolves an investigation dating back several years, is another important step forward in that process. We will continue to strengthen our business controls and dealer management program while ensuring that we are focusing on best-in-class consumer practices.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating the matter.
This is the second settlement Santander has reached with the Massachusettes regulator. In November 2015, the attorney general brought action against the finance source for funding of loans that allegedly included GAP, causing the cost of the loans to exceed the state usury limit. Santander paid $5.4 million in loan relief and payments to the state to resolve those allegations.