WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) issued a consent order against U.S. Equity Advantage, Inc. (“USEA”) and its owner, Robert M. Steenbergh. The Bureau found that the company’s disclosures and advertisements of its auto loan payment program contained misleading statements in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010’s prohibition against deceptive acts or practices. Robert M. Steenbergh is the founder, sole-owner, and chief executive officer of USEA, a nonbank located in Orlando, Florida. The consent order imposes a judgment against them requiring them to pay $9,300,000 in consumer redress and contains requirements to prevent future violations.
USEA and Steenbergh operate an auto loan payment program called AutoPayPlus, which charges fees to deduct payments from consumers’ bank accounts every two weeks and then forwards those payments every month to the consumers’ lenders. The Bureau found that USEA and Steenbergh misrepresented the amount consumers would save when disclosing the program’s benefits by not including a $399 enrollment fee in the calculations presented to consumers. USEA and Steenbergh created the misleading impression that consumers would save money using its product, when in fact, because of the enrollment fee, the program’s costs ordinarily exceeded any savings. The Bureau also found that USEA and Steenbergh stated in advertising that they have helped hundreds of thousands of customers save $29 million or more in interest by participating in AutoPayPlus when they had no basis for making this claim, and when the program had, in fact, not saved consumers that amount.
The Bureau found that more than 100,000 consumers were subject to USEA’s and Steenbergh’s deceptive practices and that consumers should receive $9,300,000 in redress for fees they paid.
The ordered redress amount is suspended upon payment of $900,000 and a $1 civil money penalty to the Bureau. The suspension of the full payment for redress, as well as the $1 civil penalty, is based on USEA’s and Steenbergh’s demonstrated inability to pay more based on sworn financial statements. Consumers harmed by USEA and Steenbergh may be eligible for additional relief from the Bureau’s Civil Penalty Fund. If victims cannot be located or it is otherwise not practicable to pay victims, the Bureau will keep the money in the Fund for victims in future cases rather than the money being sent to the Treasury.
The consent order prohibits USEA and Steenbergh from making any misrepresentations about its payment programs. It also requires them to account for the total costs for its payment programs, as well as the net savings or costs after deducting any fees, whenever they make claims about savings or financial benefits.