Short-Term Loan Startup LendUp Ordered To Pay $3.6M Over Alleged Lending Violations

When a company promises to lend you money and rebuild your credit — all through your phone — it can be hard to pass up the offer, especially when you’re in a pinch. But what happens when that lender doesn’t deliver? It gets fined millions of dollars by the federal government, or at least that’s the case for online lender LendUp.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced Tuesday that it ordered Flurish, Inc, — doing business as LendUp — to pay $3.6 million in penalties and refunds to resolve allegations it failed to help customers build their credit or access cheaper loans.

San Francisco-based LendUp offers single-payment loans and installment loans in 24 states. The company markets its products as a way for consumers to build credit and improve credit scores, while also promising to offer borrowers the ability to progress to loans with more favorable terms — dubbed the “LendUp Ladder.”

The so-called “Ladder” saw borrowers taking out high interest loans — dubbed Silver — then paying off those debts, and moving to a lower interest “Gold” loan, and then an even lower interest rate “Premium” loan.

According to the CFPB consent order [PDF] with LendUp, many of the benefits the company advertised to customers never materialized or were never actually available.

Despite the fact that LendUp advertised all of its loans nationwide, loans at the higher levels — those with lower interest rates — were not available outside of California for most of the company’s existence.

As a result, borrowers outside of the state were not eligible to move up the “LendUp Ladder” and obtain lower-priced loans and other benefits, as marketed by LendUp.

In some cases, the company was found to allegedly provide customers with inaccurate information about the costs off loans.

For example, the company often advertised on Facebook and search engines as allowing customer to view various loan amounts and repayment terms, but it did not disclose the annual percentage rate as required by law.

Despite billing itself as a company that has “no hidden fees” and “clear terms and conditions,” the CFPB claims that LendUp charged customers extra fees.

When it came to the Silver loans, the CFPB claims that LendUp offered borrowers the option to select their own loan payment date.

Borrowers who selected an earlier repayment date received a discount on the origination fee. However, if a borrower later extended the repayment date, the company would reverse the discount given at origination, according to the CFPB.

The company did not disclose this and in California, Tennessee, and Mississippi, the company’s loan agreement specifically stated that it would not charge any fees to extend the repayment period.

In addition, the CFPB found that if a borrower defaulted, any discount received at origination was reversed and added to the amount sent to collections.

Additionally, from May 2013 to March 2016, LendUp offered a service that allowed consumers to obtain loans more quickly, for a fee. In many cases, the CFPB alleges, the fees should have been included in the annual percentage rate calculation, but were not. Thus, the company inaccurately disclosed the finance charges.

Finally, the CFPB claims that while LendUp promised to help consumers build their credit by moving up the lending ladder, the company failed to provide information to credit reporting companies from 2012 until at least Feb. 2014.

According to the CFPB’s consent order, in order to resolve the allegations it misled customers, LendUp must refund $1.83 million to more than 50,000 consumers, and $1.8 million in penalties to the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund.

The company must also stop misrepresenting the benefits of borrowing, end inaccurate advertisements, and ensure the accuracy of pricing disclosures.

This isn’t the first time that LendUp has received unwanted recognition. The company became the center of a bit of controversy earlier this year when Google announced it would no longer include ads of payday lenders to protect “users from deceptive or harmful financial products.”

The only problem? Google’s parent company, Alphabet, revealed an investment in the startup, which offers loans with interest rates as high as 600%.

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