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Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Rent-A-Center? Legal Consequences Explained

by | Apr 6, 2024 | Finances | 0 comments

Rent-A-Center is a well-known rent-to-own company that offers consumers the opportunity to lease household goods like furniture, appliances, and electronics through flexible payment plans. While this business model can be appealing for those who may not have the means to purchase these items outright, it’s crucial to understand the potential legal consequences of defaulting on payments.

Understanding Rent-A-Center’s Business Model

Rent-A-Center operates on a rent-to-own model, which allows customers to lease household goods with the option to eventually own them. This arrangement is attractive to many consumers who may not have the credit or financial means to purchase these items upfront.

Under this model, customers enter into lease agreements with Rent-A-Center and make weekly or monthly payments towards the leased items. After completing the agreed-upon payment schedule, ownership of the goods is transferred to the customer.

How Rent-to-Own Agreements Work

Rent-to-own agreements are essentially lease contracts that give customers the option to purchase the leased items at the end of the term. These agreements typically involve weekly or monthly payments over a set period, usually 12 to 24 months.

While the flexibility of these arrangements can be appealing, it’s important to note that the total cost of the leased items can be significantly higher than their retail price due to interest and fees associated with the lease.

Typical Items Offered by Rent-A-Center

Rent-A-Center offers a wide range of household goods for lease, including:

  • Furniture (sofas, dining sets, bedroom sets)
  • Appliances (refrigerators, washers, dryers)
  • Electronics (televisions, computers, gaming systems)

These items are often essential for day-to-day living, making rent-to-own an attractive option for those who may not have the means to purchase them outright.

Legal Consequences for Non-Payment at Rent-A-Center

While defaulting on rent-to-own payments is generally treated as a civil matter, there have been instances where Rent-A-Center has faced legal repercussions for aggressive collection practices and threats of criminal prosecution.

In most cases, failure to make payments on a rent-to-own agreement will result in the repossession of the leased items and potential civil penalties, such as fines and damage to one’s credit score. However, criminal charges for non-payment are rare and typically limited to cases of intentional theft or fraud.

Rent-A-Center’s History of Aggressive Collection Practices

Rent-A-Center has faced scrutiny in the past for its aggressive collection practices, which have included customer harassment, intimidation tactics, and threats of arrest. In some cases, the company has been accused of using the criminal justice system as a tool for debt collection.

These practices have led to legal action against Rent-A-Center, with the company being fined millions of dollars for violating consumer protection laws.

Fines and Penalties Imposed on Rent-A-Center

In one notable case, Rent-A-Center was fined $8.75 million for threatening to have some customers arrested when they fell behind on payments and harassing others. This fine, reported by Universal Hub, highlights the severity of the company’s consumer protection violations.

These substantial fines serve as a reminder of the importance of adhering to fair debt collection practices and respecting the rights of consumers.

Recent Changes in Texas Law Regarding Rent-to-Own

In response to concerns about the use of criminal prosecution for non-payment in the rent-to-own industry, Texas recently enacted a new law to protect consumers. Signed by Governor Greg Abbott, this law aims to limit the ability of rent-to-own companies to press criminal charges against customers who default on payments for household goods.

Details of the New Texas Law

The new law, which went into effect in September, modifies the state’s theft-of-service statute to differentiate between intentional theft and non-payment in rent-to-own cases. It establishes clear guidelines for when criminal prosecution is appropriate and places a greater emphasis on civil remedies for non-payment.

The law also includes concessions for both the rent-to-own and traditional rental industries, seeking to balance the interests of businesses and consumers.

Reaction from Consumer Advocates and Industry Stakeholders

Consumer advocates have praised the new law for closing loopholes that allowed rent-to-own companies to target low-income individuals with the threat of criminal prosecution. Ann Baddour, director of the Fair Financial Services Project at Texas Appleseed, noted that the law adds “guardrails” to limit what can be criminally prosecuted under the theft-of-service statute.

Industry stakeholders, such as Rent-A-Center, have also expressed support for the law, with lobbyist Mark Vane negotiating on behalf of the company to reach a compromise that protects both businesses and consumers.

Protecting Yourself as a Rent-to-Own Customer

As a rent-to-own customer, it’s essential to understand your rights and obligations under your lease agreement. By taking proactive steps to manage your finances and communicate with your lender, you can reduce the risk of defaulting on payments and facing legal consequences.

Seeking Help for Financial Hardship

If you find yourself struggling to make rent-to-own payments, it’s crucial to reach out to your lender as soon as possible. Many companies offer payment plan modifications or other forms of assistance for customers experiencing financial hardship.

Additionally, seeking the advice of a consumer credit counseling service can help you develop a budget and manage your debts more effectively.

Knowing Your Rights Under State and Federal Law

Familiarizing yourself with your rights under state and federal consumer protection laws can help you navigate any legal issues that may arise with your rent-to-own agreement. Key protections to be aware of include:

  • Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
  • State-specific consumer protection statutes
  • Legal aid resources for low-income individuals

By understanding these protections and seeking help when needed, you can safeguard your rights and minimize the risk of facing criminal charges or other legal consequences for non-payment.

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