How would you feel if you purchased a high end TV and then found out you could have bought it somewhere else for $800 dollars less? USA Discounters is being criticized for taking advantage of military members, enticing them to purchase goods at higher-than-normal prices and hefty finance charges.
According to WRAL, USA Discounters, with locations all over the U.S., has targeted the military with its patriotic ads on a Fort Bragg website and by sponsoring military events. The company sells everything from furniture and televisions to jewelry and appliance. It promises military members are “always approved for credit.” The company makes buying simple. Payments can be automatically deducted from a service member’s monthly allotment.
Chris Trill is one example of how the company works. He purchased a sofa set, chair, TV and stand from USA Discounters and financed them through the company as well. Trill’s contract stated that paying by allotment is “strongly encouraged.”
“They say, ‘We cater to military families.’ You know, ‘we love the military,’” Trill said.
WRAL reported that Trill’s contract included fees of $1,057 for a warranty and $828.84 for debt cancellation, which covers the debt if something happens to him. The finance charge was $2,065.47. All paid, the furniture that was priced at $5,000 would ultimately cost him $10,513.88.
Chris Kukla, with the Durham-based nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending, expressed that he is troubled that too many service members, like Trill, are being caught up in questionable business practices.
“I think it’s really hard for people to understand what’s going on in the transaction,” Kukla said. “I think there’s a point where you have to recognize that you can make money doing this, but there’s a point where you’re just taking advantage of people.”
When service members are unable to pay on their accounts, USA Discounters turns to the courts and files lawsuits. Since 2006, the company has filed more than 13,000 lawsuits against its customers. Many of these were towards members of the military for missed payments.
“I think it’s particularly bad when you do it to the military, knowing that there are specific rules and regulations that are going to make it impossible for that person to show up in court,” Kukla said.
Most of the time, military members cannot make it to court so USA Discounters garnishes their pay. However, this past August, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered USA Discounters to refund $350,000 to service members charged a fee for legal protections they were already entitled to. Trill received that refund.
Regarding accusations of inflated pricing, the company stated, “The choice of where to shop will always be up to the customer.”
As for Trill, after WRAL got involved, the new CEO called him personally and offered a 50 percent reduction in the amount he owes the company. Trill said all he ever wanted was to pay his debt on reasonable terms and keep other service members from fighting this kind of battle.
Kukla stated the problem affects everyone, not just military members. However, he stressed that military members with bad credit lose their security clearance. This means they can be released from the military and all the time and money spent on their training goes to waste.