Questionable Business Practices and Pension Advances

Posted on July 10, 2014
Pensions, in addition to Social Security, are what allow millions of middle-class retirees to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Any loss of pension benefits (partial or otherwise) can significantly affect a retiree’s ability to pay monthly living expenses, medical bills, or other unexpected expenses. Unfortunately, some companies may be attempting to take advantage of financially distressed retirees by offering pension advances. We released a report earlier this week that identified at least 38 companies that offered lump-sum payments in exchange for receiving part or all of a retiree’s pension payments. We investigated these pension advance companies and found many of their practices to be questionable. We called 19 of these companies to examine their marketing practices and find out what, exactly, they were offering. Check out our videos, excerpted from GAO-14-420, to hear clips of some of our interactions with these companies. These companies used multistep pension advance transactions that included various other parties. Relationships among these companies are not always transparent to retirees.

GAO: Clip 1: Relationships among Pension Advance Companies

Some of these companies targeted financially vulnerable consumers with poor or bad credit nationwide.

GAO: Clip 2: Credit Scores and Needs of Typical Potential Pension Advance Customers

Companies marketed products nationally to consumers in need of quick cash or with bad or low credit. In this video, representatives from two companies disclosed to investigators that it would cost them less if they went to a bank, but that their companies were an option if they couldn’t.

GAO: Clip 3: Comparing Pension Advances with Bank Loans

Some companies focused on marketing to individuals or companies to invest in pension advance funding without completely disclosing risks associated with investing in pension advances.

GAO: Clip 4: Marketing Pension Advances to Investors

Some of the 38 companies we reviewed were not consistent in identifying whether pension advances are loans. Loans are subject to regulations like the federal Truth in Lending Act or state usury laws.

GAO: Clip 5: Differing Responses Regarding Whether a Pension Advance is a Loan

The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have oversight responsibility over certain acts and practices that may harm consumers. We recommended that CFPB and FTC review the pension advance practices identified in this report and exercise oversight or enforcement as appropriate. We also recommended that CFPB coordinate with relevant agencies to increase consumer education about pension advances.
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