Ian Ayres is the William K. Townsend professor at Yale Law School.
As websites such as Cars.com and TrueCar have made car pricing more transparent, auto dealers have turned to boosting their profits with hidden fees on loans.
When a consumer chooses in-house financing with an auto dealer, the dealer sends the customer’s financial information to a lender and is told the rate that the customer qualifies for. But it’s legal for the dealer to turn around and charge the customer a higher interest rate. You might qualify for a 5.9 percent interest rate, but if the dealer can get you to agree to a loan at 11 percent, the lender will kick back more than $1,000 to the dealership as pure profit. This discretionary markup of the interest rate allows auto dealers to arbitrarily increase their fees.
An analysis by the independent online auto-loan marketplace Outside Financial has found that dealers are charging an average markup of $1,791 per loan. By contrast, in 2003, Vanderbilt University economist Mark Cohen estimated that 10 percent of loans to Nissan’s borrowers were marked up more than $1,600. Now the average loan is boosted more than that.
. . .
Economists have had evidence for decades that car dealers tend to charge minorities higher prices. A series of studies I authored and co-authored in the 1990s found that auto dealers consistently charge black consumers prices that are hundreds or thousands of dollars more than their offers to white shoppers. These inflated prices can more than double the dealer’s profits compared with selling the same vehicle to a similar white customer.
. . .
The CFPB and other government agencies should be on the lookout for ways to better curtail dealership lending abuses. Yet instead of stepping up enforcement and protecting customers, the CFPB has rolled back rules on discriminatory lending practices and decreased enforcement of existing protections. Just last year, the Senate used the Congressional Review Act to overturn a CFPB rule that explicitly banned auto lenders from charging discriminatory fees on the basis of race. . . .