SoLo Funds settles lawsuit over predatory lending accusations in District of Columbia

Update: May 17, 6:10 a.m. PST - SoLo announced this week that it reached a resolution with the Connecticut Department of Banking regarding its 2022 temporary cease-and-desist order. The resolution includes no admission of wrongdoing and enables SoLo to serve Connecticut state residents.

The District of Columbia Attorney General today announced an agreement with SoLo Funds, a fintech company that enables peer-to-peer lending, to settle a lawsuit that alleged SoLo Funds engaged in predatory lending practices.

The practices alleged include Los Angeles-based SoLo Funds not telling customers “the true cost of the loans on its platform” and that it “facilitated loans with over 500% APR on average — far exceeding the District's 24% usury cap,” according to the Office of the Attorney General’s written release.

In addition, the OAG claims company was “advertising affordable and flexible loans with no interest and no fees,” but then was requiring borrowers “to pay a percentage of the loan as a ‘tip’ to the lenders,” and “soliciting borrowers to pay a percentage of the loan to the company as a ‘donation.’” The OAG’s office is also alleging that “SoLo attracted lenders to its platform by advertising that they could ‘make a quick return on [their] extra cash,’ but “in reality, for a high percentage of the loans offered by SoLo, the borrowers either failed to repay the loans on time or at all — which SoLo also failed to disclose.”

“Our office will not tolerate fintech lenders resorting to new, deceptive practices that adversely impact vulnerable residents who are frequently ineligible for traditional loans,” said Attorney General Brian Schwalb in a written statement. “SoLo sought to disguise exorbitant interest charges by deceptively calling them ‘tips’ and ‘donations.’ This settlement makes clear that we will take decisive legal action against predatory lending models in the District and nationwide, regardless of whether the predatory lender is a brick-and-mortar store, or operates entirely online.”

SoLo Funds has agreed to make certain changes to its practices relating to tips and donations and provide “honest disclosures” to both borrowers and lenders. The settlement also includes paying $30,000 to reimburse District of Columbia borrowers for the tips and donations paid to get their loans and a payment to the District. SoLo denies the allegations in the Complaint and denies that it has violated any law or engaged in any deceptive or unfair practices.

The Office of the Attorney General also said it is “the first state-level enforcement agency to reach a settlement with SoLo regarding its use of tips and donations to evade usury restrictions.”

In May 2022, the state of Connecticut gave SoLo Funds a temporary cease-and-desist order alleging similar violation of its state rules regarding tips and donations as well as “for failure to disclose the tips and for not having lending and collections licenses in the state.”

Meanwhile, the District of Columbia settlement follows an agreement with the California Department of Financial Protection & Innovation announced this week that SoLo Funds will be able to resume operations in the State of California.

"SoLo has created a community finance model that is groundbreaking and innovative – as demonstrated by our recent inclusion on the 2023 CNBC Disruptor 50 list,” said Rodney Williams, co-founder and president of SoLo via email. “As a result, we cannot easily be categorized into traditional frameworks. Our recent settlements in DC and CA are the culmination of discussions with each jurisdiction's department, and we appreciate their receptiveness to innovative ideas around a more inclusive financial system. SoLo is now focused on the future, and we are excited to resume operations in the District of Columbia and the state of California.”

In February, TechCrunch reported that SoLo Funds had acquired over 1 million registered users and over 1.3 million downloads making it “the largest and first Black-owned personal finance platform” to do so, Williams said at the time.

Since 2020, SoLo Funds has processed over 800,000 loans, according to the company. It also raised over $13 million in venture-backed capital from firms, including Serena Ventures and ACME Capital.