The Shriver Brief
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Hard at Work So You Know Before You Owe
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been hard at work despite some lawmakers’ efforts to block the confirmation of Richard Cordray, President Obama’s nomination as director of the CFPB. The CFPB has rolled out a series of Know Before You Owe topics in order to best hear consumer complaints, answer concerns, and make appropriate policy changes. First the CFPB recently published a report on consumer credit card complaint data.
The report summarizes information collected from the first three months of the CFPB’s Consumer Response office’s complaint system. When the CFPB officially launched in July of this year, its Consumer Response office’s first focus was on credit card inquiries and complaints. Consumers were encouraged to submit inquiries and complaints to the CFPB in a variety of consumer-friendly manners, including by mail, fax, telephone and the CFPB’s website. The CFPB’s call centers, for example, provide services for the hearing- and speech-impaired and can assist consumers in 191 different languages. Through these mechanisms the CFPB received over 5,000 comments on credit card issues. The data collected will inform the CFPB’s future enforcement, rulemaking, research, and consumer education efforts.
Although the majority of the comments resulted in the CFPB providing general feedback and informational resources; the CFPB also sent 84% of these concerns directly to credit card issuers to resolve and/or and respond to consumers. Thus far, credit card issuers have reported full or partial resolution of 74% of them. There were a wide range of complaint topics, however, the top five concerns related to:
- billing disputes (13.4%);
- APR or interest rates (11%);
- identity theft/fraud/embezzlement (10.8%);
- other (8.9%); and
- closing/cancelling an account (4.8%).
As part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act the CFPB was given authority to enforce the CARD Act. The CARD Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in May 2009, was designed to be a “credit card bill of rights” intended to end interest rate hikes, hidden fees, and other abusive practices in the credit card industry
The CFPB also recently held a conference marking the one-year anniversary of the enactment of the CARD Act that included presentations and reports on the credit card industry’s progress in complying with the Act. This progress, however, is mixed. Overdraft fees have virtually disappeared in the credit card industry. Similarly, prior to the CARD Act, approximately 15 percent of credit card accounts were re-priced over the course of a year; today that number is under 2 percent. Yet, while only one of the nine major credit card issuers has a usual practice of periodically reviewing the APR on existing accounts and raising interest rates for new purchases, five others have increased, or plan to increase, interest rates on new purchases for customers who are delinquent on past balances.
On another front, the CFPB is currently seeking consumer comments on mortgage application forms. Presently the forms to apply for a mortgage are very complicated. The CFPB has created a prototype of a simpler credit card agreement that clearly spells out the terms for the consumer. Use of the form is not mandatory; however, the CFPB hopes that financial institutions will adopt it. The public is being encouraged to visit the mortgage section of the CFPB’s website and compare two versions of a mortgage disclosure form the CFPB has developed that describes loan terms and closing costs. Consumers can choose which one is easier to read and that they prefer. Consumers can also compare the proposed form to their mortgage company’s current forms.
Clearly, the CFPB is working hard to protect consumers from predatory lending and deceptive practices, as well as actively hearing and responding to public comments. We only wish that the Senate would be as responsive and listen to the public’s desire to have Cordray’s nomination confirmed so that the CFPB can continue and expand this good work.