Retail chain settles suit for charging service members excess interest, DOJ says

By CLAIRE KOWALICK | Amarillo Globe-News, Texas | Published: September 16, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The Justice Department has announced that a settlement agreement was reached with Woodlands, Texas-based furniture and appliance chain Conn Credit I, lP, Conn Appliances, Inc., and Conn's, Inc.

The settlement resolves allegations that the business charged at least 184 service members excess interest on their purchases, violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

Conn's had 130 retail locations in 14 states. This is the first time the Justice Department has pursued an SCRA case against a consumer retail store.

The SCRA was instituted to provide financial and housing protections for military members who are serving active duty.

SCRA requires creditors to lower interest rates to 6% for these service members, if certain conditions are met.

Under the agreement reached with the DOJ, Conn's must hire an independent consultant to see if there are any other service members who were charged excess interest.

Conn's must refund all overcharged interest to the service members plus an additional $500 to each affected service member. Additionally, Conn's will make a $50,000 payment to the United States.

The agreement was filed Tuesday by the DOJ in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The DOJ reports Conn's has been cooperative throughout the process.

An investigation began after receiving a referral from the U.S. Army Staff Judge Advocate at the Oklahoma National Guard Joint Force Headquarters.

When they received notice of the investigation, Conn's conducted a self-audit where they found between March 2014 through May 2019, in 184 of the 322 accounts where service members requested the interest-rate cap, Conn's had not granted them this benefit, as required by the SCRA.

Conn's voluntarily disclosed this information and they sent remediation checks to these service members and credited their accounts.

SCRA enforcement is conducted by the Civil Rights Division's Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and U.S. Attorney's Offices across the country.

Since 2011, DOJ enforcement has gotten more than $474 million in monetary relief for more than 120,000 service members.

For more information about the department's SCRA enforcement efforts, visit www.servicemembers.gov.

Service members and dependents who believe that their rights under SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at legalassistance.law.af.mil/.

Claire Kowalick, a senior journalist for the Wichita Falls Times Record News, covers local government, military and MSU Texas. 

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