Happy Birthday to the Federal Agency That Works for Your Wallet

Photo (cc) by perspec_photo88

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was born to help consumers in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Yet, many Americans may not realize this federal agency exists.

Since the agency opened its doors four years ago today, the CFPB has been charged with protecting the interests of consumers in financial marketplaces. Among other things, it was established to:

  • Accept and respond to complaints from Americans who feel they have been wronged in various types of financial transactions
  • Create new consumer protections for financial products and services
  • Hold “bad actors” accountable for breaking the rules
  • Develop tools and resources to help consumers make informed financial decisions

The bureau was established by a federal law, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

Jim Lardner, spokesperson for the nonprofit Americans for Financial Reform, says in a press release that the CFPB has been a resounding success so far:

Only five years have passed since Congress created this agency … In that short time, the Consumer Bureau has begun to do something that is — unfortunately — remarkable: fulfill its mission, without getting waylaid by revolving-door insiders or falling into bureaucratic paralysis or partisan gridlock.

The CFPB counts among its accomplishments:

  • Securing $10.1 billion in relief for consumers harmed by illegal practices in the financial marketplace
  • Accepting and working to resolve more than 650,000 consumer complaints about financial products and services
  • Developing free tools and resources to help consumers better understand the financial marketplace and plan for their financial futures

The CFPB offers free tools and resources to all Americans that enable them to do any and all of the following:

1. File a complaint

The CFPB accepts complaints about 11 categories of financial products and services. They are:

  • Bank accounts or services
  • Credit cards or prepaid cards
  • Credit reporting
  • Debt collection
  • Money transfer or virtual currency
  • Mortgages
  • Payday loans
  • Student loans
  • Vehicle loans or leases
  • Other consumer loans
  • Other financial services

Consumers can file complaints online. Consumers can also get help by calling the CFPB at 1-855-411-2372. Help is available in more than 180 languages.

The bureau says that once a complaint has been filed, it forwards the complaint to the company involved. The company then has 15 days to respond.

The bureau expects companies to close out complaints within 60 days except for “the most complicated complaints.”

Consumers who have filed complaints can also review company responses and give the bureau feedback online.

2. Search others’ complaints

The CFPB announced last month that it had started making complaint narratives public. This allows consumers to read others’ complaints in full, providing consumers with additional insight when deciding about a financial product or service.

CFPB Director Richard Cordray explained last week during an anniversary event hosted by the group Americans for Financial Reform:

We started allowing consumers to share their specific account of what happened, in their own words, so that others may read about and better understand their experiences. A consumer who chooses to make her experience public enables more people to exert their power to improve the financial marketplace. So publishing these complaint narratives represents a milestone for consumer empowerment. They are the heart and soul of a consumer complaint.

The Consumer Complaint Database can be accessed and searched online.

3. Get answers to common questions

Ask CFPB” is the bureau’s collection of more than 1,000 frequently asked financial questions, and the answers to them.

Consumers can search the Q&As by entering a keyword or by selecting a particular topic category (like “Mortgages” or “Money transfers”) or a particular type of consumer (like “Parents” or “Older Americans”).

For more help with financial products or problems — including mortgages, loans and debt-collector harassment — visit the Money Talks News Solutions Center.

Have you ever used the CFPB’s services? Let us all know what you think of the bureau by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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