Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fines BloomTech for false claims

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said in an order on Tuesday that BloomTech, the for-profit coding bootcamp previously known as the Lambda School, deceived students about the cost of loans, made false claims about graduates’ hiring rates and engaged in illegal lending masked as “income sharing” agreements with high fees.

The order marks the end of the CFPB’s investigation into BloomTech’s practices and the start of the agency’s penalties on the organization.

The CFPB is permanently banning BloomTech from consumer lending activities and its CEO, Austen Allred, from student lending for a period of 10 years. In addition, the agency is ordering BloomTech and Allred to cease collecting payments on loans for graduates who didn’t have a qualifying job and allow students to withdraw their funds without penalty, as well as eliminate finance changes for “certain agreements.”

“BloomTech and its CEO sought to drive students toward income share loans that were marketed as risk-free, but in fact carried significant finance charges and many of the same risks as other credit products,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in a statement. “Today’s action underscores our increased focus on investigating individual executives and, when appropriate, charging them with breaking the law.”

BloomTech and Allred must also pay the CFPB over $164,000 in civil penalties to be deposited in the agency’s victims relief fund, with BloomTech contributing around $64,000 and Allred forking over the remaining $100,000.

Allred founded BloomTech, which rebranded from the Lambda School in 2022 after cutting half its staff, in 2017. Based in San Francisco, the vocational organization is owned primarily by Allred but is backed by various VC funds and investors including Gigafund, Tandem Fund, Y Combinator, GV, GGV and Stripe. At one time it was valued at over $150 million.

Critics almost immediately attacked the firm’s then-pioneering business model — the income share agreement, or ISA — as predatory.

BloomTech originated “at least” 11,000 income-share loans to fund students’ tuition for the short-term, typically six-to-nine-month certification programs in fields spanning web development, data science and back-end engineering, according to the CFPB. These loans required that recipients who earned more than $50,000 in a related industry pay BloomTech 17% of their pre-tax income each month until reaching the 24-payment or $30,000 total repayment threshold.

BloomTech didn’t market the loans as loans, really, saying that they didn’t create debt and were “risk free” — and advertised a 71% to 86% job placement rate. But the CFPB found these marketing claims and others to be patently false.

BloomTech’s loans in fact carried an annual percentage rate and an average finance charge of around $4,000, neither of which students were made aware of, and a single missed payment triggered a default. The school’s job placement rates were closer to 50% and sank as low as 30%. And, unbeknown to many students, BloomTech was selling a portion of its loans to investors while depriving recipients of rights they should’ve had under a federal protection known as the Holder Rule.

Prior to the CFPB order, BloomTech, which briefly landed in hot water with California’s oversight board several years ago for operating without approval, had faced other lawsuits claiming the school misrepresented how likely graduates were to get a job and how much they were likely to earn. Last year, leaked documents obtained by Business Insider raised questions about the company inflating its efficacy and hyping up a curriculum that didn’t upskill students at the level they expected.

To comply with the CFPB order, BloomTech must eliminate the finance charge for those who graduated the program more than 18 months ago and obtained a qualifying job making $70,000 or less. The company must also allow current students to withdraw from the program and cancel their loans, or continue in the program with a third-party loan.

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