Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued by the government over its lending practices

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is suing SoLo Funds, a fintech company that enables peer-to-peer lending, alleging that the company used “digital dark patterns” to deceive borrowers and illegally took fees while advertising to consumers that there were no fees.

“The CFPB is suing SoLo for using digital trickery to hide interest and fees on its online loans,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said in a May 17 press release announcing the suit. “SoLo has had repeated run-ins with state regulators, and we are putting a stop to their fake tipping scheme.”

The CFPB also alleges that the company misrepresented the cost of loans, interfered with the ability of consumers to understand what they were agreeing to, collected on loans they shouldn’t have and made false threats related to credit reporting. CFPB also stated that SoLo Funds’ business model did not provide safeguards.

“SoLo’s advertisements and loan disclosures tout no-interest loans when, in fact, virtually all loans on the SoLo Platform include a lender ‘tip’ that goes to the lender, a SoLo ‘donation’ that goes to SoLo, or both,” according to the CFPB.

Rodney Williams and Travis Holoway started SoLo Funds in 2018 to provide lending to underserved Americans, especially those who are often targeted by predatory lending practices due to their low- to middle-class status.

The company raised some $13 million in venture-backed funding, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch profiled the company in 2021 when it raised $10 million in Series A funding. Along the way, SoLo Funds attracted some high-profile investors, including Serena Ventures, (founded by tennis legend Serena Williams), Endeavor Catalyst, Alumni Ventures and Techstars.

In 2023, SoLo Funds said it reached 1 million registered users and more than 1.3 million downloads.

Meanwhile, this new lawsuit adds to the recent troubles that have plagued the company. Last year, the company settled several lawsuits with entities, including the District of Columbia and the State of California, for alleged predatory lending practices, and the Connecticut Department of Banking regarding a 2022 temporary cease-and-desist order.

Then in December 2023, SoLo Funds was in the news again, this time related to being investigated by the State of Maryland.

Regarding the new CFPB lawsuit, SoLo Funds claims in a statement to TechCrunch that it was voluntarily working toward a regulatory framework with the CFPB for the last 18 months. It said that on May 16, both entities primarily agreed on a path forward and, said “we were blindsided the next morning with a suit.”

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway said in a statement that “minority innovators were challenged to create new models to address our communities' financial inequalities.” And now that the company is doing that, the “regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

The CFPB said it is suing to change SoLo Fund’s practices, for refunds to customers and for financial penalties such as disgorgement, damages and possibly additional civil penalty fees. CFPB aims to “prevent future violations, monetary relief in the form of redress to consumers, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and damages, and the imposition of civil money penalties.”