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JIM HENRY

The CFPB's new, scary truth

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Director Richard Cordray threw cold water on a common notion among advocates for dealers and lenders: The CFPB doesn't understand how the business works and everything would be OK if the feds were just "educated."

Now the industry is starting to accept a different, and much scarier, truth: The CFPB believes it does understand how indirect lending works -- and intends to change it.

The bureau's legalistic argument is that lenders make it theoretically possible for discrimination to occur when they allow dealerships to set the customer's final interest rate and share in the profits. To eliminate even that theoretical possibility, the argument goes, lenders should change how they compensate dealers for negotiating auto loans.

But what came out of the CFPB last week was much stronger, more emotional language.

"Every consumer, regardless of race, gender, national origin, or other characteristics protected by federal law, should have equal access to credit and loan pricing that is free from unlawful discrimination. People deserve the chance to finance a car purchase at a fair price," Cordray said in a speech last week.

Advocates for dealers and lenders vehemently deny tolerating discrimination, and they say marketplace competition ensures customers don't get overcharged.

However, it may be too late to argue that the CFPB doesn't get it.

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com

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