Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071; or [email protected]
Watchdog agency Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a complaint database that consumers can use to ask for help in resolving financial problems with a mortgage, debt or student loan.
If you’ve tried to get a credit bureau to remove erroneous information without any progress, try submitting your complaint here: www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint.
Having the regulatory agency behind you has the effect of making a company respond, often resolving the issue in your favor.
U.S. PIRG Education Fund, a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group, analyzed the CFPB’s complaint database and found that more than 223,000 grievances resulted in relief for consumers. More than 70,000 people got money back from the companies they complained about, according to the recently released report.
Here are some of the report’s findings:
• The CFPB has received more than 1.5 million complaints since the database was established in 2011.
• The three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — have the most complaints.
• In 2018, 43 percent of complaints involved issues around consumer credit reports or credit-repair services.
“The complaints against the three nationwide credit bureaus are particularly worrisome since consumers do not choose to do business with these companies,” the PIRG report said. “The bureaus collect and sell your information without your consent, which is why strong oversight by the CFPB is needed.”
• Close to half of the complaints were filed against 10 companies. Along with the three major credit bureaus, they were: Bank of America, Capital One, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, student-loan servicer Navient, and mortgage-servicing company Ocwen.
• Filed complaints get a 97 percent timely response from companies. The CFPB, which forwards complaints to the companies, says consumers generally get a reply within 15 days.
“Because a company’s response, or lack thereof, is published publicly within two weeks of a complaint’s receipt, companies are incentivized to provide timely responses,” said Mike Litt, consumer campaign director at U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
Meanwhile, Mick Mulvaney, the former interim head of the CFPB and now acting White House chief of staff, has said he isn’t a fan of keeping the database public.
Referring to the rule that requires the bureau to provide information to Congress about complaints and responses, Mulvaney said last year, “I don’t see anything in here that I have to run a Yelp for financial services sponsored by the federal government.”
“This is an issue that the Bureau continues to evaluate and as Director [Kathy] Kraninger has stated before it is on the agenda to address this year,” the agency said in a statement.
Last year, the CFPB solicited comments on potential changes to the public-reporting practices of consumer-complaint information.
“The complaint database forces accountability and transparency onto these institutions,” one person wrote. “Consumers can make informed choices when they know the business history of the institution they are considering doing business with.”
A letter from 15 veteran and military-service groups, which urged that the database not be closed to the public, also arrived during the comment period.
“Because service members, veterans, their families, and survivors are targets for consumer fraud by predatory financial companies, it is essential that their complaints are not hidden from the public,” the groups wrote.
The CFPB should keep the light shining bright on consumer complaints. In darkness is where dirty deeds hide.