Money Matters

5 Subprime Auto Loan Lessons From John Oliver

BY Andy StonehouseSeptember 24, 2018

Scam exposés have a wide range of TV practitioners—from the driveway-crashing local reporter to the faceless undercover “producer” employed in only the finest episodes of ABC’s 20/20.

And then there’s the Jedi master of the art: John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, who skips the gotchas of the medium in favor of long-form snark barrages.

As the undisputed king of the desk-based hammer drop, Oliver’s genius is on full display in this video targeting the predatory practices of the subprime auto loan industry.

The entire video is alarming and well worth the watch. But since it weighs in around 18 minutes, we’ve attempted to save you some time by putting together a handy cheat sheet of its best moments.

1. Beware The Industry’s ‘Venus Flytrap’ Ads

Oliver’s piece takes particular aim at the lengths to which some subprime lenders will feign ignorance about credit scores just to get people who have bad ones in the door. Of particular note is a loan shop that claims it DOESN’T EVEN LOOK AT YOUR CREDIT SCORE. Of course, this is just the nectar meant to lure in credit-averse prey so they can be inescapably bled dry and discarded to make room for the next victim.

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2. Why One Woman Had To Pay $13,000 For a $3,000 Car

In the video, Oliver states that “Buy Here, Pay Here” auto loans sport a default rate of one-in-three—which means the chances of having your financial life wrecked by agreeing to one is the same a Let’s Make a Deal contestant has of choosing the speedboat behind Curtain #2. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Chicago woman Arlene Jones from seeking the help of one such vehicle lot to get a loan for a car she said she could afford—around $3,000. Reassured by a salesman who told her she could “handle it,” she ended up on the line for a loan worth more than four times the value of her car—a full $13,000.

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3. One Used Car Financially Wiped Out 8 Different People

Not since Christine has one car terrorized such a wide swath of people as a high-mileage 2003 Kia Optima that ran through eight different owners in three years. How did it do this? Because each time it was resold by the same “Buy Here, Pay Here” lot in Kansas City for twice to three times its value after being repossessed from or returned by its previous owner.

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Lesson: Even if you’re a few days late on a payment for your car, it can be repossessed and put back on a lot to sell to another customer. And this can happen again and again and again—which means a lot of money can be made regardless of whether or not you’re able to make your payments.

4. Who Loves Predatory Lending Practices? Debt Buyers!

In this clip, This Week Tonight goes undercover at a debt-buyers’ conference in Las Vegas. Besides capturing the thrill-a-minute tone of your typical corporate sales event, the iPhone-quality footage also shows the leader of a “Buy Here, Pay Here” organization advising attendees go after the poor people who committed the obvious sin of being elaborately tricked by his industry.

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5. Oliver & Keegan-Michael Key Could Run a Solid Subprime Shop

Nothing spices up a talk show sketch like a celebrity cameo. And John Oliver doesn’t disappoint here, enlisting Key & Peele star Keegan-Michael Key as his fictional partner in what frighteningly may not even be the world’s worst subprime auto lending business.

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