Attention Christmas shoppers, the home improvement twins are offered a small rebate to customers who were talked into buying their credit cards. Home Depot and Lowe’s agreed this week to a $4 million court settlement in a lawsuit involving the companies’ credit card promotions. Both giant retailers were accused in a class action lawsuit, that was filed a year ago, of misleading consumers who signed onto Monogram Bank of Georgia credit cards, and were told that interest on their purchases would be deferred. Unwitting customers were told they could defer interest charges for six months on certain store credit card purchases over $200. But once they had signed up for the card, customers discovered that their credit card payments were being applied toward their interest-free balances, while their regular purchases continued to accrue interest. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy gave preliminary approval to the settlement on Nov. 17, and set the date for a final approval hearing on June 6. The judge also told the companies to begin notifying their customers of the terms of the settlement, which includes an agreement by the Home Depot and Lowe’s to give every credit card holder who lost money as a result of the wrongful payment allocations a $5 rebate on a purchase of $15 or more. Of the $4 million settlement, more than half, $2.5 million, will go to the rebates, with the rest going to pay attorneys fees. If not enough customers claim their refund, the settlement requires the retailers to establish a $2 million fund benefiting a consumer-related activity or group. It turns out the financial bite will not fall on Home Depot or Lowe’s, who actually can come out ahead in the settlement, because the consumers have to buy $15 or more at either store, and the cost of the credit comes from the Bank of Georgia. “All defendants are bound by the terms, but my understanding is that the credit card provider is the defendant who is bearing the cost of the settlement,” lawyers for the plaintiffs told the Associated Press. Home Depot and Lowe’s agreed to tell customers how their credit card payments are applied and to automatically apply payments against the interest-bearing balances first, unless customers chose otherwise.
This misleading credit card scheme led consumers to think they were saving interest charges, when in fact they were not. It took a class action lawsuit and more than a year of litigation to get these two companies to agree to a settlement. Both retailers were taking advantage of their customers by not explaining how their credit cards really work. Maybe they’d like to apply some settlement money to Sprawl-Busters, which will help educate consumers not to shop at big box chain stores, which are largely selling Chinese goods, in the first place. The size of this settlement is four times larger than the $1 million Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus recently gave to a group working to promote the candidacy of George W. Bush.