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Released: August 30, 2016
Consumer Action takes a closer look at a most valuable consumer tool
Report examines CFPB complaints, public data and company responses
Consumer Action today releases a study of the CFPB public complaint database, which evaluates if the information it contains can help consumers vet companies they might want to do business with. We report our findings in the latest issue of Consumer Action News, where we break down the most common types of complaints received, demystify how best to access the data by filtering complaints to target the type and companies needed, and examine the ways companies respond to consumers. Click here for the full report.
Nearly one million complaints have been filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by consumers’ about their disputes with financial services companies. The bulk of them end up in the CFPB’s public complaint database and can offer useful information to those making financial decisions, such as choosing a bank, credit card, mortgage or auto loan. These complaints also help the Bureau, advocates and the public identify unfair or illegal business practices and hold companies accountable.
More than half of consumers (59%) who complain to the CFPB voluntarily share the details of their financial disputes. (The CFPB removes consumers’ personal information prior to posting.) Many choose to do so because they want to help others avoid similar, potentially costly problems.
Consumer Action’s research shows that while companies privately respond to consumers in 97 percent of complaints, most businesses choose not to post a public response. This is unfortunate because it doesn’t help other consumers understand how the company handled the dispute or how to avoid similar problems.
This will change next year, when the Bureau will add a company satisfaction survey to allow consumers to provide feedback about how companies chose to respond to their complaints.
- How to get the best results when filing a student loan complaint;
- What consumers can realistically expect when they file a grievance with the CFPB; and
- A snapshot of company responses and resolutions to consumer complaints.
For example, we looked at how companies responded to debt collection complaints in 2015:
- 1 percent received monetary relief, at an average of $317 per complaint.
- 15 percent received non-monetary relief, including things like stopping debt collection calls or receiving corrected credit bureau reports.
- 67 percent received an explanation from the company.
To wrap up its research, Consumer Action offers the CFPB suggestions on how to continue to improve its first-rate resource:
- Increase and improve information about consumer relief. We suggest the Bureau provide a detailed breakdown of amounts and types of monetary and non-monetary relief received by complainants.
- Provide third-party referrals. If a company says a third party is responsible for the problem, the CFPB should require the company to provide contact information for the responsible party so that the consumer can attempt to resolve the complaint.
- Let consumers know when further CFPB action (lawsuit, settlement, new rule) results from a complaint they submitted. Consumer Action suggests the consumer should be notified directly by the Bureau and the action should be reported to the public to expand awareness and use of the complaint tool.
Consumer Action’s research was conducted between February and July 2016 by Josue Chavez (2016 Columbia University intern) and staff members Alegra Howard, Monica Steinisch and Ruth Susswein.
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Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers and regulators to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change, particularly in the fields of consumer protection, credit, banking, housing, privacy, insurance and utilities.
By providing consumer education materials in multiple languages, a free national hotline, a comprehensive website (www.consumer-action.org) and annual surveys of financial and consumer services, Consumer Action helps consumers assert their rights in the marketplace and make financially savvy choices. Nearly 7,000 community and grassroots organizations benefit annually from its extensive outreach programs, training materials and support.
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