The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced its latest enforcement action Tuesday, ordering GE Capital Retail Bank and subsidiary CareCredit to refund as much as $34.1 million to consumers who thought they were signing up for interest-free credit cards, but the cards accrued interest to be applied at the end of a promotional period.
The refunds, which may go to more than 1 million consumers, have been ordered due to the fact that consumers who enrolled since 2009 may not have been given an adequate explanation of how the healthcare credit cards work. CareCredit works with medical providers to offer these credit cards as a payment option for healthcare services like dental, vision and veterinary care.
The vast majority of CareCredit customers (85%) are enrolled in a deferred-interest financing plan. Under this plan, cardholders are given a promotional financing period (from six to 24 months) in which they make monthly payments on their balance. If that balance is paid off in full by the end of the financing period, no interest is charged. However, during that promotional period, a 26.99% APR is accrued on the balance and if the cardholder does not pay the balance in full by the end of the offer period, they are liable for the full amount of accrued interest.
The CFPB found evidence of deceptive credit card practices after receiving complaints from hundreds of consumers, including claims that they weren’t given a copy of the terms of agreement and that many of the medical staff who were explaining the products to patients received little or no training from CareCredit.
A CareCredit spokesperson says the company “worked cooperatively with the CFPB on this inquiry and [is] committed to providing more education for consumers and healthcare providers and enhanced consumer disclosures.”
Consumers who have been affected by the deferred-interest credit cards will be contacted by CareCredit with instructions on how to file a claim for reimbursement.
“Medical debt is already a big problem for many Americans. Poor credit card transparency should not be making the problem even worse,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “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. The Bureau will not tolerate financial companies that take advantage of patients and their loved ones.”
As Cordray highlights, medical debt has become a nightmare for many Americans, impacting their credit and financial decisions. Often, medical debt is sent to collections, and a debt collection account can remain on your credit reports for seven years. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the major bureaus once a year and you can also monitor your credit for free using the Credit Report Card, which can tell you how many negative accounts are impacting your credit scores.