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

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

New Survey Shows Free Checking Widely Available At Small Banks But Banks Still Hiding Fees from Consumers

A survey of hundreds of banks and credit unions in 24 states and the District of Columbia 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). The survey released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group also revealed that fewer than half of branches surveyed obeyed their legal duty to fully disclose fees to prospective customers on the first request, while 12% provided no fee information at all.

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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).

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Court rejects First Amendment attack on credit bureau regulation and other financial follies | Ed Mierzwinski

In an important case joined by the government, a U.S. district judge has rejected the latest misguided industry attack on the constitutionality of regulation of credit bureaus. Meanwhile, the CFPB has released its first annual report on credit card deals with colleges. Here's a weekly summary of the latest financial follies.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Supreme Court hears case on textbook prices with implications for all secondary markets (Amazon, eBay) | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard an important case concerning whether publishers can restrict owners of books from reselling their used copies, raising massive implications not only for the prices of textbooks but also for the very existence of important secondary markets like Amazon and eBay.  U.S. PIRG joined others in urging the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court's view that consumers lose longstanding rights to resell copies of copyrighted books, if the books were made outside the US.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Washington Post: Can’t fix error in your credit report? Call Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

"A much-cited study by the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups found that almost 79 percent of all credit reports had some type of error."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Disappointed Senate Blocks Confirmation of Rich Cordray To Head CFPB, Says “Constituents can ask opponents why.”

Today, despite strong support from diverse organizations and leaders seeking to protect consumers, veterans, students and older Americans from financial tricks and traps, the Senate failed to confirm the well-qualified nominee, Rich Cordray, to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Ratchets Up Support for Confirmation of Rich Cordray to Head CFPB

With a Senate vote on confirmation of former Ohio Attorney General Rich Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau expected tomorrow, U.S. PIRG ratcheted up its efforts to urge Senators to support confirmation. The group announced that it is urging its members in every state to contact Senators and running radio ads in several states.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Changes Gut Consumer Protections, Protect Wall Street

The House Financial Services Committee simultaneously approved an industry-friendly rollback of consumer financial and product safety protections. The approved bill eliminates the independence of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) while also preventing the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) new public information database from informing the public about product hazards.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

OCC Again Chooses Interests of Banks Over Consumers and States

A broad coalition of more than 250 consumer advocacy and civil rights groups are protesting yesterday’s announcement by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) that it will largely ignore a key mandate of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed by Congress last year in response to the financial scandals that brought on the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Instead, the OCC will continue to give national banks a blank check to violate state rules against unfair and predatory practices.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Two Years After Passing the Credit CARD Act, Congress Steps Up Attacks on Consumer Cop Designed to Enforce It

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 has eliminated numerous credit card tricks and traps without causing skyrocketing interest rates or any of the other horrible side-effects that the banks once warned about.  Now the banks and their Congressional allies are seeking to eliminate the CFPB, the new consumer cop created to enforce the CARD Act and protect consumers from other tricks of the trade, like unfair mortgage and overdraft practices.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

SEC mostly ignores us, proposal weakens investor protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a proposed rule implementing the controversial JOBS Act that fails to protect small investors from a likely onslaught of sales pitches online and on the phone -- including from private equity and hedge funds. Positively, it's only a proposed rule, at least nominally subject to amendment, not an interim final rule.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

More credit card banks quit evil ways | Ed Mierzwinski

In July, the CFPB slammed Capital One for tricking consumers into buying over-priced, under-performing credit monitoring and debt-cancellation subscription products. More good news: the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bank of America has stopped selling debt cancellation products and that Citibank is in some sort of timeout.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Wall St. Computers Run Amok and More Friday Financial Follies | Ed Mierzwinski

Will the blowback from Wednesday's Wall Street high-speed trading crash caused by computers running amok revitalize efforts to enact a small tax on stock transactions? Meanwhile, here are the rest of the week's financial follies, finishing with a Funk #49.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Friday's Financial and other Congressional Follies | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the U.S. House passed a bill stopping all regulations designed to promote the economy, preserve the environment or protect health, safety and pocketbooks. Meanwhile,  Citibank's Sandy Weill, the man who in 1999 convinced Congress to destroy the 1932 Glass-Steagall financial protections, has changed his mind.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Payday lenders seek "get out of regulation free" card | Ed Mierzwinski

Triple-digit APR payday lenders are spending some of their massive profits on a bad legislative proposal, HR 1909, to eliminate any oversight by either state governments or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and move them into the arms of the industry-friendly federal bank regulator known as the OCC. Being regulated by the OCC has been a "get out of regulation free" card for the banks, so why not join them?

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