Myths and realities behind military loan 'horror stories'

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News

Lender ethics on loans to military families is a hot topic that's going to get hotter in 2012.

For example, the upcoming Vehicle Finance Conference and Exposition for the American Financial Services Association has a Feb. 1 panel called "Myths vs. Reality: Financing Military Members and Families."

The background is that some consumer-advocate groups and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are zeroing in on horror stories.

One horror scenario was related by Holly Petraeus, director of the bureau's Office of Servicemember Affairs, at a Federal Trade Commission roundtable on auto finance last summer. She said she had heard that a selling "technique" that's "still used occasionally" is for dealership personnel to offer service members rides to the dealership, then threaten to strand them at the distant car lot. The idea is to force them to buy a car so they can get back to the base.

Dealer groups and auto lenders are sticking up for the industry's ethics.

Here are my suggestions for a couple of myths and realities:

It's a myth that all service members are high-risk 18-year-olds. There are a lot of men and women on active duty who are long out of their teens, with responsible spending habits and good credit histories. That's not to mention millions of veterans whose service is behind them.

It's also a myth that every dealer wants to take advantage of service members. Some do. But reputable dealers want to stay that way.

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