Consumer Watchdog Announces Largest Discriminatory Auto Lending Case Ever

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Girls Auto Clinic Offers Special Services and Advice for Women

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in October 2018.

Patrice Banks used to be the type of woman who felt like she needed a man with her when she took her car to a mechanic or bought a new car.

“[It] wasn’t a very empowering position, considering I’m an engineer,” she says. “I’m in a male-dominated field, I’m smart, but yet I was an auto airhead.”

After reaching out to other women, Banks realized she wasn’t alone. All too many found themselves in similar situations. She decided she was going to do something about it — for herself and for other women.

So Banks went back to school to learn how to become an automotive technician. She quit her engineering job at a Fortune 500 company and opened an auto repair shop in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania — just outside of Philadelphia — in January 2017.

The shop — Girls Auto Clinic — is run by women and caters to a female clientele. Banks owns a salon — Clutch Beauty Bar — adjacent to the shop, where customers can get their nails or hair done while waiting for their cars to be serviced.

Banks is dedicated to changing the face of the automotive industry and empowering women with auto education. She hosts free car care workshops at her shop once a month from April through November and is the author of the “Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide,” which teaches women about car maintenance, car buying and finding the right mechanic.

Banks recognizes not every woman will want to get dirty and fix her own car but says women should know the basics of how to take care of their cars. After all, your car is an investment that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. You want it reliably getting you from point A to point B — not inching its way toward the scrap-metal yard.

Forget the Old Oil Change Rules

Banks says the most important thing car owners can do is to make sure to get their oil changed on schedule.

“Do you want to spend $40 for an oil change or $3,000 for a new engine?” she asks.

Following conventional wisdom, many people think they’ll need to spring for an oil change every 3,000 miles or three months. But that may not be the case, Banks points out.

“A lot of cars can go 5,000 [or] 10,000 miles between oil changes,” she says. “It is based on your owner’s manual.”

For those of us who haven’t cracked open the owner’s manual in a while — or ever — Banks says that’s where you’ll find a maintenance schedule that’ll outline when your vehicle needs routine care, like getting tune-ups, your filters replaced, your tires rotated and your oil changed.

An oil change is one of the least expensive auto-related costs you’ll likely encounter, she says.

So How Much Will This Cost?

Prices for auto jobs can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including how your car is made and where you live, Banks says.

However, she says you can generally lump the work done at an auto shop into three categories. The least expensive are tasks like oil changes, getting your tires rotated and replacing your windshield wipers. Banks says these types of maintenance jobs might cost less than $50, but they are tasks that need to be performed most frequently — at least once every year or two.

Light repairs and more involved maintenance work — like fluid flushes or getting new brakes and tires — fall in the middle tier, Banks says. You can expect to spend between $100 and $300 per job, and you’ll probably need these types of jobs completed every two to five years, she says.

Major repairs will be your highest expenses. And the older your car is, the more likely it’ll need some major repair work. A 2018 Ally Financial survey of over 2,000 Americans found that 80% of those who needed a major auto repair in the past five years paid $500 or more for it.

“When a car gets to be what I call in its second life, like 100,000 miles or over — what I call over the hill — that’s when it’s all fair game; anything and everything that could break will break,” Banks says. “I tell women everything on a car will fail. It will fail eventually. You have to expect it.”

If you’ve financed your car, Banks recommends you pay off your car note before your vehicle hits 100,000 miles. Then start saving up for repairs. You should expect to have repair costs on top of the regular maintenance work you’ll still need, she says.

Build Your Savings and Find a Good Mechanic

A woman mechanic shares advice on auto repair.
Women get advice about car buying, basic maintenance, realistic repair costs and finding the right mechanic in Banks’ free monthly workshops. Photos courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic

Planning ahead is the best way to not get caught unprepared when you’re hit with a high auto-related expense. Banks says to expect to pay about $1,000 a year in car repairs if your car has over 100,000 miles on it. She recommends socking away about $100 a month.

Pro Tip

Set up a sinking fund to save regularly for future repairs. Deposit savings in that account monthly and only withdraw when you need to pay an auto bill.

Another important aspect of being a smart car owner is to have a mechanic you trust. Open communication between technicians and customers is one thing Banks prioritizes at Girls Auto Clinic.

“Mechanics … diagnose things by hearing, feeling, seeing and smelling,” she says. “So if we can hear, feel, see and smell it, so can you.

“One of the things that I suggest that [customers] do, whether they come to us or any other mechanic, is to say, ‘Show me.’ We take people out into the shop and we show them what we’re seeing,” she says. “We have them listen to what we hear… We have them try to smell what we smell. We have them feel what we feel.”

Communication is key to helping clients not feel like they’re being taken advantage of, Banks says.

She acknowledges that car owners are sometimes hesitant to visit a mechanic because they fear they’ll feel pressured with recommendations for products and services that’ll add to their bills. Chain repair shops and dealerships are notorious for upselling, Banks says.

She says she combats this by being transparent with clients about what work they need right away and what they can wait a few months to have done. If your budget is tight, don’t be afraid to speak up, explain what you can afford now and ask what work can wait for a future visit.

Banks says she used to be a “get-in-the-car, turn-the-ignition-and-go type of girl,” but with knowledge and confidence, she’s no longer clueless about cars.

And when her car needs work done, she doesn’t have to call a man to help.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.




The 4 Best Brokerage Account Bonuses in February 2021

Charles Schwab office
Photo by Tada Images /

Originally published by James Royal on

Brokerages are aggressively competing for your money. One way they do so is by offering competitive bonuses that you can add right to your brokerage account.

It’s important to know the best offers so that you can decide whether it’s a good time to open a brokerage account and take advantage of what is often risk-free cash.

Here Bankrate tracks the best brokerage account bonuses to help you compare active offers.

Best brokerage account bonuses in February 2021

  • Ally Invest: $50 to $3,500
  • Merrill Edge: $150 to $900
  • Charles Schwab: $100 to $500 (personally referred friend offer)
  • TD Ameritrade: $350 to $2,500

Ally Invest: $50, $200, $300, $600, $1,200, $2,500 or $3,500 bonus

New Ally Invest clients can earn up to a $3,500 cash bonus if they open a new account by March 31, 2021. The qualifying deposit must contain funds from outside of Ally Financial, and a person can only get the offer on one new Ally Invest Securities LLC account. As an extra incentive, Ally will credit your transfer fees from another brokerage, up to $150 as long as you bring at least $2,500 over to the new account.

Ally Invest checks your deposit 60 days after your account is opened to determine the total qualifying deposit. You’ll receive your cash bonus within 10 business days after this review.

To receive a cash bonus, you must:

  • Deposit at least $10,000 in a new Ally Invest account.
  • Be a U.S. resident.
  • Not be an existing Ally Invest account holder or a former Ally Invest account holder (which includes former TradeKing Securities LLC account holders). You’re not eligible to receive the cash bonus if you closed one of these Ally Invest accounts within the past 90 days.

You must use the “Open Account” button associated with this offer on Ally Invest’s site for opening your account to be eligible for this offer.

Here are the bonus tiers for this offer:

  • To receive the $50 bonus, deposit or transfer $10,000-$24,999.
  • To receive the $200 bonus, deposit or transfer $25,000-$99,999.
  • To receive the $300 bonus, deposit or transfer $100,000-$249.999.
  • To receive the $600 bonus, deposit or transfer $250,000-$499,999.
  • To receive the $1,200 bonus, deposit or transfer $500,000-$999,999.
  • To receive the $2,500 bonus, deposit or transfer $1 million -$1,999,999.
  • To receive the $3,500 bonus, deposit or transfer $2 million or more.

Once you receive your bonus, both the cash bonus and your qualifying deposit (minus any trading losses that are incurred) can’t be withdrawn for 300 days. A withdrawal may cause Ally Invest to revoke your bonus.

Read Bankrate’s Ally Invest review to learn more.

Merrill Edge: $150, $225, $375 or $900 bonus

When you open a Merrill Edge IRA or cash management account and make a qualifying deposit within 45 days of opening you can earn up to a $900 bonus, if you are or will soon be a member of Merrill’s Preferred Reward program. You need to use offer code 900ME during the account opening. This can be done while applying online or using it when speaking to a Merrill Edge financial advisor on the phone or at select Bank of America branches. This offer expires April 15, 2021.

To receive a cash reward, you must:

  • Enroll for the offer at the time of account opening.
  • Deposit net new assets of at least $20,000 into your Merrill Edge account within 45 days of opening the account.
  • You must be enrolled in the Preferred Rewards program within 90 days of making the deposit.
  • Maintain that balance for at least 90 days.

The offer limits you to one IRA — rollover, traditional, Roth and sole-proprietor SEP only — and one cash management account. Each account holder can’t have more than two enrolled accounts.

Assets from Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (MLPF&S), U.S. Trust, or 401(k) accounts administered by MLPF&S aren’t qualifying net new assets.

You’ll receive your cash reward two weeks after the initial 90-day period, assuming you meet eligibility requirements.

Business/corporate accounts, investment club accounts, partnership accounts and certain types of fiduciary accounts held at Merrill Edge aren’t eligible for this offer. The offer also doesn’t apply to accounts, which include IRAs or CMAs, held with other business units of MLPF&S.

Here are the bonus tiers:

  • To receive the $150 cash reward, deposit $20,000 to $49,999.99.
  • To receive the $225 cash reward, deposit $50,000 to $99,999.99.
  • To receive the $375 cash reward, deposit $100,000 to $199,999.99.
  • To receive the $900 cash reward, deposit $200,000 or more.

If you’re not in the Preferred Rewards program, you can still use promo code 600ME to receive $100, $150, $250 and $600 with the same respective deposits as above.

Read Bankrate’s Merrill Edge review to learn more.

Charles Schwab: $100, $200, $300 or $500 (if you’re referred by a friend)

Schwab is offering personally referred friends the opportunity to earn up to $500 when they use a referral code, given to you by a current Schwab customer, and open an eligible account at Schwab.

To receive the bonus award, you must:

  • Receive a referral code from a friend or family member.
  • Be a new Schwab client and make a qualifying net deposit within 45 days of both becoming a Schwab customer and opening an eligible retail brokerage account.

You’re limited to one per account and only one account per client when you receive a referral.

Schwab retail brokerage accounts and IRAs are eligible for this offer. This includes accounts that are enrolled in Schwab-sponsored investment advisory programs, such as Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, Schwab Managed Portfolios, Schwab Managed Account Select and Connection, as well as Schwab Private Client.

You’ll receive your bonus approximately a week or two after the 45-day period ends if you made a qualifying deposit when becoming a new Schwab customer and enrolling in the referral offer.

Schwab may charge back its bonus award if taxable accounts aren’t kept at Schwab for at least one year.

Here are the bonus tiers for this offer:

  • To receive a $100 bonus, deposit $1,000-$24,999.
  • To receive a $200 bonus, deposit $25,000-$49,999.
  • To receive a $300 bonus, deposit $50,000-$99,999.
  • To receive a $500 bonus, deposit $100,000 or more.

Read Bankrate’s Charles Schwab review to learn more.

TD Ameritrade: $350, $700, $1,500 or $2,500 bonus

If you open a new individual, joint or IRA TD Ameritrade account, you can earn up to a $2,500 bonus. This offer is available through June 30, 2021.

To receive a bonus, you must:

  • Fund the new account with a qualifying deposit of $250,000 or more within 60 calendar days of account opening.

Note: The offer isn’t valid with internal transfers, for TD Ameritrade Institutional accounts or an account managed by TD Ameritrade Investment Management, LLC. It’s also not valid for current TD Ameritrade accounts and you can’t use other offers.

There is a limit of one offer per client. Your account value must remain at least equal to its value after the net deposit was made for 12 months – minus any losses due to trading or market volatility or margin debit balances. Otherwise, TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the offer amount.

(Charles Schwab has purchased TD Ameritrade, and will eventually integrate the two companies.)

Here are the bonus tiers for this offer:

  • To receive a $350 bonus, deposit $250,000-$499,999.
  • To receive a $700 bonus, deposit $500,000-$999,999.
  • To receive a $1,500 bonus, deposit $1,000,000-$1,999,999.
  • To receive a $2,500 bonus, deposit $2,000,000 or more.

Read Bankrate’s TD Ameritrade review to learn more.

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Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.


Ally’s diversification efforts starting to pay off

Ally Financial, which was spun off from General Motors in 2006, has long wanted to reduce its heavy reliance on the auto finance business.

The Detroit-based company hit some bumps along the way. In 2019, Ally ended a credit card partnership with TD Bank. Last summer, its $2.7 billion deal to buy a subprime card issuer was terminated amid the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Ally, which operates a digital-only bank with deposits of $137 billion, is starting to gain some traction in two fledgling lending segments — mortgages and unsecured consumer loans.

Last year, Ally originated $4.7 billion in home loans, which was up 74% from 2019. The mortgage unit, which seeks to appeal to home buyers who want an online borrowing experience, reported pretax income of $53 million in 2020, up from $40 million the previous year.

Meanwhile, the unsecured lending segment had full-year loan origination volume of $503 million, which was up 75% from 2019. While the business is not yet profitable, Chief Financial Officer Jennifer LaClair said that is largely because new accounting rules require lenders to reserve for losses over the life of a loan, which makes it harder to achieve profitability during a period of rapid growth.

Ally’s digital brokerage platform, a third prong of the firm’s diversification strategy, has also shown strong customer growth, though its bottom line has been hurt by the rise of free online trading.

In an interview Friday, LaClair attributed the rapid growth of new consumer products largely to Ally’s 11-year-old digital bank, which she said offers depositors a gateway to additional offerings. Existing depositors account for more than half of Ally’s new mortgage volumes, and the same pattern holds for its new brokerage account holders.

“Our new businesses are scaling because of existing customers,” LaClair said in remarks that followed the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report. “We’ve been able to do that very efficiently through the digital deposit platform, and to the extent we can leverage that as a gateway, we have an incredibly low cost of acquisition for these other products.”

To be sure, Ally remains heavily dependent on auto loans, which account for around 60% of the company’s $176 billion of assets. Last year, residential mortgages and unsecured consumer loans made up about 9% of the balance sheet.

LaClair said Friday that she sees a clear path for Ally to quadruple its unsecured consumer loans, to $2 billion a year. The business segment, known as Ally Lending, grew out of the company’s $190 million acquisition of Health Credit Services in 2019. It offers point-of-sale loans in partnership with health care providers, home improvement contractors and retailers. Loans for home improvement projects have gotten a boost from changes in consumer spending patterns during the pandemic.

The home loan business, known as Ally Home, grew out of a partnership with the digital mortgage firm Ally’s return to the mortgage business came several years after the demise of Residential Capital, a subprime mortgage unit of GMAC, as Ally was formerly known, which lost $9.2 billion between 2007 and 2009 and was later liquidated.

Still, it was the traditional auto lending business that drove profits in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Ally reported net income of $687 million, up 82% from a year earlier, thanks both to a smaller provision for credit losses and higher revenue. Ally has benefited from strong consumer demand for cars during the pandemic, which has propelled loan volumes and bolstered used-car prices, reducing the size of losses when loans go bad.