Reining in Wall Street

STANDING UP AGAINST THE BIG BANKS AND WALL STREET—For more than 20 years, Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski has helped us stand up against big banks and credit card companies.

A PRO-CONSUMER FISCAL FUTURE

Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their financial institutions are ripping them off, or using tricks and schemes to squeeze money out of them.

Yet for years, federal bank regulators ignored numerous warnings of increasingly predatory mortgage practices, credit card tricks, and unfair overdraft policies used by the big Wall Street banks. They also ignored warnings of risky securities being packaged and sold to investors. In the wake of the resulting financial crisis, U.S. PIRG fought for and successfully urged passage of a strong 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Since winning federal Wall Street reform, we've worked to defend those reforms from the industry's attempts to defang, defund or delay them. In particular, since it began work in July 2011, we've had to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the first federal financial agency with just one job: protecting consumers. However, it took another two-year fight against the opponents of the CFPB to convince the Senate to confirm Bureau's director, Richard Cordray, to a full five-year term. The Senate finally confirmed Cordray in July 2012, eliminating any uncertainty over the CFPB's authority over credit bureaus, payday lenders and other non-bank firms.

The CFPB - in many ways the centerpiece of the broader 2010 Wall Street reforms - has already succeeded in protecting consumers, from students and soldiers to seniors and homeowners. Among the CFPB's successes have been its new regulation of the mortgage markets, its creation of a publicly-available consumer complaint database, and its investigations of the big credit bureaus. The CFPB has also made banks and credit card companies return nearly half a billion dollars to consumers who were treated unfairly.

Yet consumers, taxpayers and investors still face big risks in the financial marketplace. Big banks are allowed to make risky bets with our money, many financial institutions are still finding ways to unfairly squeeze money out of their customers, and financial industry practices still pose risks to the financial system. So in addition to defending the CFPB, we are working to protect investors, taxpayers and the financial system itself:

  • We're supporting a requirement called the Volcker Rule which would prevent big banks from using their “own” money, which includes depositor funds, to place risky bets.
  • We're urging the Commodity Futures Trading Commission not to allow the big banks to hide their reckless financial bets offshore the way that AIG and JP Morgan's London Whale did.
  • We're backing Securities and Exchange Commission rules to require that all public companies, including banks, publish the ratio of compensation between their CEO and their middle-level employees.

In short, we're building a financial regulatory system that guarantees that consumers and taxpayers are protected from predatory practices. And we're fighting to give consumers a seat at the table when it comes to oversight of the nation's financial system.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Faces A "Death of a Thousand Cuts" Today | Ed Mierzwinski

(UPDATED Again on 6/11) Today, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee considers a package of over a dozen anti-consumer, anti-investor, anti-taxpayer bills. The worst of the 9 bills targeted at the CFPB eliminates its ability to compensate victims of so-called "last-dollar" financial fraudsters.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

On Memorial Day, Thank Servicemembers and Veterans and Thank the CFPB for Protecting Them | Ed Mierzwinski

On this Memorial Day, celebrate servicemembers and veterans. It's important that the CFPB has their backs, since predatory lenders are after their wallets.  As I often say, the idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

New Federal Bills Would Protect Students From High-Cost Campus Bank Accounts

Yesterday, House and Senate lawmakers introduced bills that would protect college students from being needlessly steered into campus bank accounts — accounts that often drive up students’ costs and deplete their financial aid. U.S. PIRG warned that if we the Department of Education can't protect students from high campus debit card fees, then we will "pursue this strong alternative approach put forth from the Hill.”

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB complaints help recover $90 million for servicemembers | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education and the FDIC slammed student loan company Sallie Mae and a spinoff, ordering over $6 million in penalties and $90 million in compensation to servicemembers and veterans. Complaints to the CFPB's public database helped build the case. As the CFPB's director said in an important speech last week: "Each consumer’s voice counts and the chorus of many voices can change practices at these large financial companies."

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

New Report Examines Promise and Potential Dangers of New Financial Marketplace

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) released a comprehensive new report today focused on the realities of the new financial marketplace and the threats and opportunities its use poses to financial inclusion. The report examines the impact of digital technology, especially the unprecedented analytical and real-time actionable powers of “Big Data,” on consumer welfare. The groups immediately filed the report with the White House Big Data review headed by John Podesta, who serves as senior counselor to the President.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

New Federal Bills Would Protect Students From High-Cost Campus Bank Accounts

Yesterday, House and Senate lawmakers introduced bills that would protect college students from being needlessly steered into campus bank accounts — accounts that often drive up students’ costs and deplete their financial aid. U.S. PIRG warned that if we the Department of Education can't protect students from high campus debit card fees, then we will "pursue this strong alternative approach put forth from the Hill.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

New Report Examines Promise and Potential Dangers of New Financial Marketplace

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) released a comprehensive new report today focused on the realities of the new financial marketplace and the threats and opportunities its use poses to financial inclusion. The report examines the impact of digital technology, especially the unprecedented analytical and real-time actionable powers of “Big Data,” on consumer welfare. The groups immediately filed the report with the White House Big Data review headed by John Podesta, who serves as senior counselor to the President.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Financial Reform

National data-theft law still a hard sell

The data breach at Target Corp., which exposed millions of credit card numbers, has focused attention on the patchwork of state consumer notification laws and renewed a push for a single national standard. [...] ‘‘From industry’s perspective, whether you’re a bank or a merchant, you don’t want to have to notify consumers,’’ said Ed Mierzwinski, at the US Public Interest Research Group. ‘‘They want to preempt, or override, the best state laws.’’

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Financial Reform

Why you should keep your debit card at home

[...]debit cards do not share the same consumer protections as credit cards. This week’s series of data security hearings on Capitol Hill, an outgrowth of the recent rash of retail data breaches, highlighted the unequal treatment. Not all of the 40 million Target customers who had their debit and credit card numbers stolen during the holidays can rest easy about their liability for fraudulent charges, Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group pointed out to lawmakers.[...]

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Financial Reform

Target Says 40 million credit, debt cards may have been compromised...

Hackers gained access to as many as 40 million credit and debit cards used by customers of Target during the height of the holiday shopping season, the company reported Thursday, in one of the biggest data breaches in history. [ALSO SEE LINK AT END OF CLIP TO U.S. PIRG NEWS RELEASE WITH CONSUMER TIPS.]

> Keep Reading

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Reforming Wall Street

U.S. PIRG’s campaign to win historic Wall Street Reform was recognized by The Hill newspaper as one of the Top 10 lobbying victories of 2010, which wrote that, “[c]onsumer advocacy groups like the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Consumer Federation of America won big with the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.” In addition, we worked to ensure the confirmation of Richard Cordray as director of the CFPB, ensuring that the new agency had the power to carry out its mission.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Digital Democracy | Financial Reform

Big Data Means Big Opportunities and Big Challenges

This report examines the growing use of "Big Data" in financial decision-making, especially in a digital marketplace characterized more and more by the use of mobile phones. It explains the opportunities to use Big Data to promote financial opportunity and the threat of financial exclusion, discrimination or higher prices for some consumers if Big Data is not used properly. The report makes recommendations to advocates, industry and regulators.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, state PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 250 bank and 116 credit union branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and reviewed bank fees online in these and 7 other states. They found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits).

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Ten Reasons Why We Need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now

This report outlines predatory financial practices that hurt consumers and helped collapse the economy, costing us eight million jobs, millions of foreclosed homes and trillions of dollars in lost home and retirement values. It explains these and other emerging problems as “10 Reasons We Need The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now.”

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 392 bank branches in 21 states and reviewed bank fees online in 12 others.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Faces A "Death of a Thousand Cuts" Today | Ed Mierzwinski

(UPDATED Again on 6/11) Today, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee considers a package of over a dozen anti-consumer, anti-investor, anti-taxpayer bills. The worst of the 9 bills targeted at the CFPB eliminates its ability to compensate victims of so-called "last-dollar" financial fraudsters.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

On Memorial Day, Thank Servicemembers and Veterans and Thank the CFPB for Protecting Them | Ed Mierzwinski

On this Memorial Day, celebrate servicemembers and veterans. It's important that the CFPB has their backs, since predatory lenders are after their wallets.  As I often say, the idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB complaints help recover $90 million for servicemembers | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education and the FDIC slammed student loan company Sallie Mae and a spinoff, ordering over $6 million in penalties and $90 million in compensation to servicemembers and veterans. Complaints to the CFPB's public database helped build the case. As the CFPB's director said in an important speech last week: "Each consumer’s voice counts and the chorus of many voices can change practices at these large financial companies."

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

We Join FTC Event on Big Data E-Scores | Ed Mierzwinski

Companies on the Internet are tracking you with vastly powerful Big Data algorithms to determine what to sell you and for how much and what financial opportunities to offer you. Today at 10am, I join an FTC workshop on Alternative Scoring Products to debate the transparency and fairness of the system with privacy and technology experts from industry, academia and the public interest. You can attend or watch online.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Financial Reform

While CFPB Takes Action To Aid Consumers, U.S. House Acts Against CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the CFPB sued ITT, a for-profit school, for a variety of alleged violations, including pressuring students into high-cost predatory loans with little promise of a future job. This morning, I join CFPB leaders for a panel on how it can help fix the credit reporting system. Yet, this afternoon, the House will probably vote to hobble the CFPB in several ways. Go figure.

> Keep Reading

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Send your senators a message right now, urging them to stand with consumers and support Richard Cordray and a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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