Capital One N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA) N.A. (together Capital One), have agreed to pay approximately $12 million to resolve a lawsuit by the Department of Justice alleging the companies violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the Justice Department announced today. The settlement covers a range of conduct that violated the protections guaranteed service members by the SCRA, including wrongful foreclosures, improper repossessions of motor vehicles, wrongful court judgments, improper denials of the 6 percent interest rate the SCRA guarantees to service members on some credit card and car loans and insufficient 6 percent benefits granted on credit cards, car loans and other types of accounts. The proposed consent order, which was filed simultaneously with the complaint, is one of the most comprehensive SCRA settlements ever obtained by a government agency or any private party under the SCRA.
“Today’s action makes clear that the Justice Department will fight for our service members, and use every available tool, resource and authority to hold accountable those who engage in discriminatory practices targeting those who serve,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Every day, our brave men and women in uniform make tremendous sacrifices to protect the American people from a range of global threats – and my colleagues and I are determined to ensure that they receive our strongest support here at home.”
The agreement requires Capital One to pay approximately $7 million in damages to service members for SCRA violations, including at least $125,000 in compensation plus compensation for any lost equity (with interest) to each servicemember whose home was unlawfully foreclosed upon, and at least $10,000 in compensation plus compensation for any lost equity (with interest) to each servicemember whose motor vehicle was unlawfully repossessed. In addition, the agreement requires Capital One to provide a $5 million fund to compensate service members who did not receive the appropriate amount of SCRA benefits on their credit card accounts, motor vehicle finance loans and consumer loans. Any portion of the $5 million that remains after payments to service members are made will be donated by Capital One to one or more charitable organizations that assist service members.
“This settlement demonstrates that the Justice Department will take any and all actions to ensure that the rights of service members are protected. We rely on these brave men and women to protect the safety and security of this country and we will be vigilant in protecting their rights at home,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez. “We commend Capital One for taking steps to develop strong SCRA policies before they knew the full results of our investigation.”
Capital One cooperated fully with the Justice Department’s investigation into its SCRA practices and has also agreed to pay above and beyond the $12 million if ongoing, independent audits required by the settlement turn up violations in accounts that it recently acquired from HSBC or ING Direct USA. Capital One has also, on its own initiative, recently adopted several policies that go beyond the requirements of the SCRA, such as extending a 4 percent interest rate to qualifying service members and giving an additional one-year grace period before de-enrolling service members from the reduced interest rate program.
Service members will be identified and compensated, with no action required on their part, on accounts dating back to July 15, 2006. As a result of the decree, Capital One has agreed to treat a service member’s request for a 6 percent rate relief in one area of its lending, such as credit cards, as a request for a 6 percent rate relief for any loan the servicemember may have with Capital One or its affiliates. This is the first time the Justice Department has obtained this type of enterprise-wide rate reduction relief from a lender under the SCRA. The settlement also requires Capital One to adopt policies and practices to prevent violations of the SCRA in the future.
The settlement was filed in conjunction with the Department’s complaint, which alleges that Capital One violated the SCRA, from at least July 15, 2006 to Nov. 21, 2011, when it: 1) wrongly denied certain written requests made by SCRA-protected service members to have the interest rate on their credit cards and motor vehicle finance loans lowered to 6 percent per year; 2) provided insufficient interest rate benefits on certain accounts that were enrolled after written requests were received from SCRA-protected service members; 3) foreclosed on the mortgages of certain SCRA-protected service members without court orders; 4) repossessed certain SCRA-protected service members’ motor vehicles without court orders; and 5) obtained default judgments on certain debts owed on credit cards, mortgage foreclosures, and/or motor vehicles without filing accurate affidavits of military service .
“We rely on the SCRA to guard and protect the rights of our men and women of the armed forces so that they can focus on their service to our country,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride. “This case underscores the need for financial service providers to be aware of the wide-ranging protections and benefits the SCRA provides and to have in place policies and procedures that ensure service members’ SCRA rights are protected.”
The agreement, which is subject to court approval, was filed today in federal court in Alexandria, Va. The lawsuit resulted from a referral to the Justice Department by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The referral involved a claim of a single service member’s failure to receive an interest rate reduction on his Capital One credit card account. The settlement comes after a two-year investigation of Capital One by the Department of Justice.
The SCRA provides critical consumer and other protections to the men and women serving our nation in the military. Its enactment was recognition that those who are making great sacrifices to protect us deserve our full support at home.