By Claudia Buck The Sacramento Bee
In coming weeks, more than $425 million in refunds and restitution is going out to millions of consumers nationwide, thanks to a recent round of crackdowns on deceptive credit card practices.
And another $410 million — from Bank of America — is already landing in pockets of millions who got stuck with excessive debit card fees.
In most cases, no one’s going to get rich off these settlements. In fact, folks will likely get back just pennies on the dollar.
But still, cash is cash. And a little extra in the wallet is always welcome.
Behind some of the payouts is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a year-old federal agency launched in July 2011 to play “neighborhood cop” in policing the consumer financial market, everything from mortgages to student loans to credit cards.
Working with other federal agencies, the CFPB this summer and fall ordered three credit card companies — American Express, Capital One and Discover — to return a combined $425 million to consumers, primarily for misleading sales tactics.
“We think this is definitely a case of enforcement getting better,” said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of credit card comparison site LowCards.com, who follows the credit card industry. He said the CFPB “is establishing the fact that they mean business. Their ‘calling’ is to look after consumers and they are trying to show that they will do just that.”
With both the credit card and Bank of America rebates, consumers don’t need to do anything to get their money. The companies are required to contact customers, whose refunds will be automatically deposited into an existing account. If they’re not a current customer, they’ll be mailed a check.
Here’s a list of some of the recent refunds under way:
BANK OF AMERICA: Roughly $410 million involves Bank of America checking or savings accounts — accessed with a debit card — between January 2001 and May 2011.
According to the class-action lawsuit that resulted in the settlement, Bank of America routinely processed debit transactions in order of highest to lowest amounts. Instead of debiting them chronologically in the order they occurred, the bank started with the highest amount — say a $1,000 rent payment. If that exceeded what was in the person’s bank account, then every subsequent debit charge racked up overdraft fees, which typically are $35 per transaction. As a result, some consumers got dinged thousands in overdraft fees.
For more details on the Bank of America settlement, go to www.bofaoverdraftsettlement.com or call 800-372-2390.
AMERICAN EXPRESS: Three AmEx subsidiaries were ordered to pay $85 million to about 250,000 cardholders for various illegal credit card practices between 2003 and spring 2012. The violations “occurred at every stage of the consumer experience, from shopping for cards, to applying for cards, to paying charges, and to paying off debt,” said the CFPB.
The repayments include: unlawful late fees (with interest); $300 to those who didn’t receive the promised bonus when signing up for AmEx’s “Blue Sky” cards; $100 to those who were misled and denied cards for unforgiven debt amounts.
American Express customers are expected to receive payments no later than March 31.
CAPITAL ONE: It’s been ordered to pay $140 million to 2 million customers “who were pressured or misled into buying credit card products they didn’t understand, didn’t want or in some cases, couldn’t even use,” the CFPB said in a statement.
It said Capital One’s call centers targeted consumers with low credit scores. When those customers called to activate their credit cards, “high-pressure” salespeople were misleading about the cost, eligibility and benefits of various products, such as job-loss “payment protection” or credit score monitoring.
Those customers will be reimbursed — with interest — for financial products purchased after August 2010. The repayments are expected to be delivered by the end of this year.
DISCOVER: Accused of deceptive telemarketing tactics to sell various “add-on” credit card products, Discover is paying $200 million to more than 3.5 million consumers who were billed between December 2007 and August 2011.
Those extra products included credit score monitoring, as well as “protection” for identity theft, stolen wallets or delayed payments caused by job loss or hospitalization.