Posted Jan. 15, 2014
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an order Dec. 10, 2013, for GE Capital Retail Bank and subsidiary CareCredit to refund up to $34.1 million to potentially more than 1 million consumers. These consumers signed up for CareCredit credit cards that they thought were interest-free, according to the CFPB, but the consumers actually were accruing interest that kicked in if they did not pay the full balance by the end of a promotional period.
“Deferred-interest products can be risky for consumers in the best of circumstances, and today’s action ensures that CareCredit will no longer profit from consumer confusion,” said Richard Cordray, CFPB director.
CareCredit offers personal lines of credit for health care services, including dental, cosmetic, vision, and veterinary care. Health care providers are the primary sellers of the product, and there are about 4 million active CareCredit cardholders.
About 85 percent of CareCredit borrowers are in a deferred-interest financing plan. Consumers make monthly payments while CareCredit assesses 26.99 percent annual interest on the balance throughout a promotional period from six to 24 months. If any portion of the balance has not been paid when the promotional period ends, the consumer becomes liable for all the accrued interest.
According to the CFPB order, since January 2009, consumers who signed up for the credit card frequently received an inadequate explanation of the terms. The CFPB began investigating CareCredit after receiving hundreds of complaints from consumers. The bureau found evidence of misleading enrollment processes, inadequate disclosures, and poorly trained staff in health care provider offices.
The CFPB order requires that GE Capital Retail Bank and CareCredit create a $34.1 million reimbursement fund, enhance consumer disclosures, and improve consumer experience with health care providers (see sidebar below).
CareCredit issued the following statement in response to the order:
“CareCredit consistently enjoys some of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the industry and high repeat usage of the program, with 60 percent of transactions coming from existing cardholders. We worked cooperatively with the CFPB on this inquiry and are committed to providing more education for providers who offer our program and enhanced consumer disclosures.
“We take our responsibility to provide an excellent experience very seriously and look forward to continuing our focus on providing access for millions of consumers to non-emergency healthcare and veterinary services across a network of 175,000 providers.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered GE Capital Retail Bank and subsidiary CareCredit to take the following steps to address consumer confusion about CareCredit credit cards:
- Create a $34.1 million reimbursement fund. CareCredit must notify consumers who incurred charges in connection with their credit cards that they may file a claim seeking reimbursement. An independent adjudicator will review claims.
- Enhance consumer disclosures. CareCredit must enhance disclosures to consumers during the application process and on billing statements. The company will improve descriptions of the deferred-interest product and warn consumers when the promotional period is ending. Representatives will call most consumers within 72 hours of the initial transaction to explain the product. For certain transactions of more than $1,000, consumers will enroll directly through a CareCredit representative.
- Improve consumer experience with health care providers. Health care providers who offer CareCredit cards will have to follow new transparency principles, including mandatory training for staff who market the product. Providers also will have to provide plain-language disclosure forms to ensure that consumers receive adequate information before signing up for a card.