Auto loans to borrowers considered subprime, those with credit scores at or below 640, have spiked in the last five years. The jump has been driven in large part by the demand among investors for securities backed by the loans, which offer high returns at a time of low interest rates. Roughly 25 percent of all new auto loans made last year were subprime, and the volume of subprime auto loans reached more than $145 billion in the first three months of this year.But before they can drive off the lot, many subprime borrowers must have their car outfitted with a so-called starter interrupt device, which allows lenders to remotely disable the ignition. Using the GPS technology on the devices, the lenders can also track the cars’ location and movements.The devices, which have been installed in about two million vehicles, are helping feed the subprime boom by enabling more high-risk borrowers to get loans. But there is a big catch. By simply clicking a mouse or tapping a smartphone, lenders retain the ultimate control. Borrowers must stay current with their payments, or lose access to their vehicle.
“I have disabled a car while I was shopping at Walmart,” said Lionel M. Vead Jr., the head of collections at First Castle Federal Credit Union in Covington, La. Roughly 30 percent of customers with an auto loan at the credit union have starter interrupt devices.From his office outside New Orleans, Mr. Vead can monitor the movements of about 880 subprime borrowers on a computerized map that shows the location of their cars with a red marker. Mr. Vead can spot drivers who have fallen behind on their payments and remotely disable their vehicles on his computer or mobile phone.The devices are reshaping how people like Mr. Vead collect on debts. He can quickly locate the collateral without relying on a repo man to hunt down delinquent borrowers.Gone are the days when Mr. Vead, a debt collector for nearly 20 years, had to hire someone to scour neighborhoods for cars belonging to delinquent borrowers. Sometimes locating one could take years. Now, within minutes of a car’s ignition being disabled, Mr. Vead said, the borrower calls him offering to pay.“It gets their attention,” he said.Mr. Vead, who has a coffee cup that reads “The GPS Man,” has been encouraging other credit unions to use the technology. And the devices — one version was first used to help pet owners keep track of their animals — are catching on with a range of subprime auto lenders, including companies backed by private equity firms and credit unions.
Without the use of such devices, said John Pena, general manager of C.A.G. Acceptance, “we would be unable to extend loans because of the high-risk nature of the loans.”
Across the country, state and federal authorities are grappling with how to regulate the new technology.Consumer lawyers, including dozens whose clients’ cars have been shut down, argue that the devices amount to “electronic repossession” and their use should be governed by state laws, which outline how much time borrowers have before their cars can be seized.State laws governing repossession typically prevent lenders from seizing cars until the borrowers are in default, which often means that they have not made their payments for at least 30 days.The devices, lawyers for borrowers argue, violate those laws because they may effectively repossess the car only days after a missed payment. Payment records show that Ms. Bolender, the Las Vegas mother with the sick daughter, was not in default in any of the four instances her ignition was disabled this year.
Cross Posted To: The Cranky Sociologists
UPDATE: More on the scum-sucking Title Loan companies in today's (12/26/14) NYT:
They are, roughly speaking, the home equity loans of subprime auto. In these loans, which can last as long as two years or as little as a month, borrowers turn over the title of their cars in exchange for cash — typically a percentage of the cars’ estimated resale values.“Turn your car title into holiday cash,” TitleMax, a large title lender, declared in a recent television commercial, showing a Christmas stocking overflowing with money.More than 1.1 million households in the United States used auto title loans in 2013, according to a survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — the first time the agency has included the loans in its annual survey.Customers of TitleMax, for example, typically renewed their loans eight times, a former president of the company disclosed in a 2009 deposition.And because many lenders make the loan based on an assessment of a used car’s resale value, not on a borrower’s ability to repay that money, many people find that they are struggling to keep up almost as soon as they drive off with the cash.
Unable to raise the thousands of dollars he needed to repair his car, Ken Chicosky, a 39-year-old Army veteran, felt desperate. He received a $4,000 loan from Cash America, a lender with a storefront in his Austin, Tex., neighborhood.The loan, which came with an annual interest rate of 98.3 percent, helped him fix up the 2008 Audi that he relied on for work, but it has sunk his credit score. Mr. Chicosky, who is also attending college, uses some of his financial aid money to pay his title-loan bill.Mr. Chicosky said he knew the loan was a bad decision when he received the first bill. It detailed how he would have to pay a total of $9,346 — a sum made up of principal, interest and other fees.
In Wisconsin, it took the title loan industry only one year to reverse a ban on the loans that had been put in place in 2010. In New Hampshire in 2008, state legislators enacted a law that put a 36 percent ceiling on the rates that title lenders could charge. Four years later, though, lobbyists for the industry won a repeal of the law.“This is nothing but government-authorized loan sharking,” said Scott A. Surovell, a Virginia lawmaker who has proposed bills that would further rein in title lenders.