Tests Find Bias Persists in Auto Lending
A set of eight tests at auto dealers in Virginia found that just over half the time white buyers were offered better financing than non-whites even though the white buyers had worse credit scores, a consumer group reported Thursday.
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) based in Washington, D.C., said its investigation shows the persistence of practices that create and sustain racial and ethnic wealth gaps in the United States.
The test design was modeled after one long used in the housing market. For each pair of tests, the shoppers were the same gender and close to the same age. In seven tests, the non-white shopper had a higher income. In the eighth test the non-white tester had a lower income, but also a lower debt-to-income ratio.
In five cases, the non-whites ended up with offers that would have had them paying more than their white counterparts.
“This report is disheartening but not surprising,” said Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending. “Years of data show that unfair, racially discriminatory treatment of consumers is a growing problem in the auto lending industry. This is especially true for low-income families of color, where a car is often one of the biggest purchases made by a household.”
Calhoun said the report shows the need for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to maintain its indirect auto lending guidance designed to prevent discriminatory pricing in auto lending.
Pooled together, the tests show that non-whites would have paid an average of $26,168 in total borrowing costs, which was $657 or 3% more than offered to the white testers.
The difference is not great, but the NFHA researchers said the sharply better credit profiles of the non-white shoppers should have resulted in significantly lower borrowing costs for them.
The average non-white income was $55,313, or 30% more than the white testers, and non-white credit scores were 736 compared with 706 for whites.
In one test, both shoppers had credit scores over 800. Income was $60,000 for the non-white and $80,000 for the white, but the debt-to-income ratio was only 1% for the non-white shopper, while it was 38% for the white.
In that case the non-white shopper was offered a deal that would have had her paying $31,125 over 75 months at 6%, while the white shopper was offered $28,848 at 2.89% over 72 months. Both women would have paid $3,000 down.
Under President Obama, the CFPB and the U.S. Justice Department conducted detailed investigations of indirect car loans that found patterns of discrimination that led to settlements with the indirect finance arms of Toyota, Honda and others.
Under President Trump, both agencies are expected to be less aggressive towards lenders.
The top recommendation in the NFHA’s 35-page report was that state attorneys general combine their powers to enforce state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, including bringing lawsuits against offending companies for discriminatory practices.
“Coordinated AG action can result in sweeping industry changes,” the report said. “Coordinated AG efforts would also bring national awareness to discrimination in auto lending and unfair, deceptive, and abusive dealer rate mark-ups.”