Ed's Blog

For its own first birthday, CFPB sends gifts to consumers

By Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

Tomorrow, Saturday, July 21, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns one year old. The CFPB already has achieved a record of significant accomplishments in its first year to protect veterans, students, seniors, military families and all consumers.

And this week, the CFPB has celebrated its own birthday by sending consumers several more gifts.

First, on Monday, it firmly declared that, yes, it is the first federal financial regulator with full authority to protect consumers in both the bank and the non-bank financial marketplace. It issued its first "larger participants rule" granting itself authority to supervise and examine the workings of the largest credit bureaus. No other federal agency has ever had this power to protect consumers. As I wrote on Monday, this is a really big deal for consumers who've suffered through the mistakes made by these self-anointed but sloppy gatekeepers to financial and employment opportunity. Here are the prepared remarks of CFPB Director Rich Cordray and here is the CFPB press release announcing the rule. The CFPB also wants to hear your credit bureau stories. Especially in this economy, you should not be denied a job or a credit card or a mortgage or even a place to live because your credit report is full of mistakes and the gatekeeper won't fix them.

Second, on Wednesday the CFPB issued its first enforcement decision. The CFPB ordered Capital One Bank to refund well over one hundred million dollars to victimized credit card customers (and unlike many settlements from other regulators, CFPB has set it up so consumers get their money back automatically, without doing anything). The bank had allegedly targeted them for junky payment protection and credit monitoring subscription products added onto their monthly bills. Typically these useless products can cost up to $14.95/month or even more in add-on monthly fees on your credit card bill. If they were worthwhile, they'd be sold in stores and would jump off the shelves. Instead, banks trick consumers into buying them with misleading subscription offers.

Then, on Thursday, the CFPB, joined by the U.S. Department of Education, announced the results of a major report finding that private student loans are "riskier" than federal student loans and that many students are "trapped" by high-cost private student loan debt, while making "common-sense" reform recommendations.

The CFPB, established as a centerpiece of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, is the first federal financial agency with only one job: protecting consumers. It has special responsibilities to protect seniors, military servicemembers and students. The CFPB is also tasked with ensuring fair lending and promoting financial education and literacy. The CFPB protects you no matter where you buy financial products—at a bank, at a credit union, at a mortgage company or a payday lender.

The CFPB was enacted as a response to over a decade of financial lawlessness. During that time, the virtually-unregulated sale of unfair, unsustainable overdraft, payday, credit card, and finally, of course, mortgage products made the financial collapse of 2008 much worse than it would have otherwise been.  Consumers, homeowners, neighborhoods and entire regions of the country are still suffering from the effects of the Wall Street-induced financial marketplace collapse and recession. Millions of consumers lost jobs or homes while millions more have faced massive declines in home and retirement fund values.

In just one year of work, the CFPB has come of age. Its many successful accomplishments on behalf of students, servicemembers and veterans, seniors and all consumers have demonstrated that it is an important tool to level the financial playing field for fair-dealing firms and to protect consumers against unfair financial practices from firms that insist that they don't have to play by the rules.

Despite its accomplishments, and the need to complete the important ongoing projects that the CFPB continues to work on this year, to solve issues ranging from mortgage servicing to forced mandatory arbitration, some continue to insist that the CFPB should be weakened or even eliminated. They ignore the obvious lessons of the financial collapse and they ignore the findings of a July poll commissioned by Americans for Financial Reform and others which found that "Voters support the CFPB by a 40-point margin.  Two-thirds (66 percent) of voters overall and 69 percent of independents agree that the CFPB is needed."

Congratulations to the CFPB on its accomplishments in its first year. Keep up the good work.

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