Consumer Action INSIDER - March 2023


What people are saying

“[Consumer Action] continues to deliver important, relevant subjects in ways that always amaze me. Thanks for the great content.”

—Linda Hutchinson, Choice In Aging, Fairfield, CA (view our webinars on our YouTube channel)

New video explains how to complain to the CFPB

By Linda Williams

What do you do when you experience a breakdown in your relationship with your financial institution, have a dispute with your credit card company or a credit reporting agency, or are being stalked by an aggressive debt collector for a debt you don't owe?

This writer would say that your first step should be to go to the Consumer Action website and download our latest edition of "How to Complain," a comprehensive guide that gives advice on how to approach businesses with a complaint, explains how to escalate a complaint through customer service or a company's executive offices, and provides sample complaint letters and email messages you can use to communicate with the company.

However, if you've exhausted the complaint process as laid out in "How to Complain," and that erroneous account still appears on your credit report, the debt collector is still calling, or your financial provider keeps giving you the runaround, your very next step is to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

In a half-hour video hosted by Consumer Action, Darian Dorsey, deputy assistant director of the CFPB’s Office of Consumer Response, outlines the CFPB complaint process, noting that the agency forwards more than 10,000 consumer complaints to financial services companies for a response each week, and most—99%!—received a timely response in 2022. (Companies have 15 days to provide an initial response, and up to 60 days to provide a final response, if needed.) 

Watch “Got a gripe with a financial provider? File a complaint with the CFPB” to learn the types of products and services consumers can complain about to the agency, the steps that must be taken before submitting the complaint, essential information and documentation to include with the complaint, and what happens after the complaint is submitted.

Consumers can file a complaint with the CFPB online (in English) in less than 10 minutes, or by phone (in more than 180 languages) in 25 to 30 minutes (855-411-2372/TTY/TDD: 855-729-2372).

Coalition Efforts: From reining in junk fees to curtailing data broker intrusions

By Monica Steinisch

Consumer Action and its allies recently called on policymakers and regulators about these important issues:

A call to end junk fees. According to research by Consumer Reports in 2019, the average family of four pays about $3,200 a year in fees. These fees are imposed on cable TV, hotel rooms, concert and event tickets, airline tickets, bank accounts, financial services, rental cars, and many other services. Often the fees are unexpected—hidden until checkout. Consumer Action and more than 40 allies responded to the Federal Trade Commission’s call for comment on junk fees, encouraging the agency to regulate the added charges. In addition to “nickel and diming” America’s consumers, the fees, which do not add value for consumers, harm honest businesses by allowing their competition to bait consumers with low prices and hide the fees until later in the transaction. Read the letter here.

Ensure borrowers’ right to a re-appraisal—without bias. Consumer Action was one of a dozen advocacy organizations to sign on to a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) regarding the agency’s guidance on Reconsideration of Value (ROV) requests made by borrowers to lenders offering FHA loans. The appraisal ROV process allows a consumer to dispute an appraiser’s valuation of a property. This is an important right because, despite the 1968 Fair Housing Act barring discrimination in home appraisals and other housing-related transactions, bias in appraisals still exists. If the borrower disputes the appraisal, the lender can ask the appraiser to reconsider the appraised value based on the concerns and any new information. In some instances, the lender can also order a second appraisal from a new appraiser. Unfortunately, lenders have not standardized the steps in the ROV process, often leaving consumers confused or unaware of their rights. While the groups support HUD’s plan to issue guidance on ROVs, they noted that the guidance needs substantial improvement to ensure that borrowers are aware of their appraisal dispute right and how to seek an ROV, and that lenders implement procedures that eliminate the chances of bias in handling ROVs. Among the groups’ suggested changes is to require lenders offering FHA loans to collect data on borrower ROVs and bias complaints so that HUD can better identify patterns of discrimination. Read the letter here.

Save patients money by clearly labeling “generic” and “brand-name” drug tiers. The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposes to make several updates related to standardized health plan (Medicare, and plans offered on the Affordable Care Act healthcare marketplace and state exchanges) options, including adding a requirement that all covered generic drugs be placed on tiers labeled “generic” and brand-name drugs be placed on tiers labeled “brand-name.” In recent years, many formularies have been placing generic drugs on expensive brand-name tiers, thereby causing confusion and imposing unnecessarily higher costs on patients. This simple and practical solution would encourage use of lower-cost generics, reduce patient uncertainty, and lower out-of-pocket costs for lifesaving medicines. Read the letter here.

Rein in data brokers’ use of consumers’ “credit header” info for profit. Consumer Action joined its allies in urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to use its authority under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to rein in data brokers who use consumers’ identifying personal information without their consent, and to revise regulations implementing the FCRA to ensure and clarify the law’s coverage of data brokers when they sell “credit header” data (typically consisting of an individual’s name, aliases, birth date, Social Security number, current and prior addresses, and telephone number), which should be considered a “consumer report.” Data brokers have a staggering reach into the most private corners of consumers’ lives, aggregating and selling this personal data, often in violation of the FCRA. Harmful and abusive practices by these data brokers violate consumers’ financial rights, with the range of harms falling disproportionately on historically disadvantaged communities. For example, data brokers may sell information about low-income communities of color to entities that will use that information to market predatory products, such as high-interest payday loans. Read the letter here.

CFPB Watch: Excessive late fees, credit card payment reporting, and a ‘fine print’ database

By Ruth Susswein

Today, if you are hit with a credit card late fee, it could cost you $30 the first time, and up to $41 for subsequent late payments.

In seeking to save consumers billions of dollars in “excessive” credit card late fees, the CFPB has proposed to limit these penalty fees to $8 per violation, and to prevent the fee from escalating if you are late again. The Bureau also wants to stop the fee from automatically rising each year through inflation adjustments. The proposed rule also caps late fees at 25% of the bill’s minimum payment.

“Over a decade ago, Congress banned excessive credit card late fees, but companies have exploited a regulatory loophole that has allowed them to escape scrutiny for charging an otherwise illegal junk fee,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra.

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 (which Consumer Action helped pass) says that penalty fees must be reasonable and proportional to the costs incurred by the card issuer. However, recent CFPB analysis reveals that credit card late fee income is five times the true cost. The Bureau estimates that 75% of late fees just pad card companies’ pockets.

The proposal does contain an exception to the $8 fee limit if card issuers can prove that their collection costs exceed $8.

If you want to weigh in on credit card late fees and whether card companies should provide a 15-day grace period (after the due date) before imposing a late fee, email the Bureau at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Include Docket No. CFPB-2023-0010 in the subject line. The deadline for comments is April 3, 2023.

Credit card issuers cut back on actual payment data

Credit card issuers have “deliberately suppressed” the actual amounts that customers are repaying by failing to report the true monthly payment to the credit bureaus, according to the CFPB.

The benefit to consumers of card issuers reporting actual payments to the credit reporting agencies (versus just the minimum required payment) is the possibility of receiving better credit offers, with lower interest rates, that could save consumers significant sums in interest. 

The CFPB’s research reveals that one major credit card company stopped reporting consumers’ actual payments years ago and other major issuers followed soon after. Credit card accounts with actual payment information reported dropped from 88% to 40% in less than two years. JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover and American Express are not reporting actual monthly payments and have no plans to do so. Some of the companies told the CFPB that providing actual payment data made it easier for competitors to lure away good customers.

'Fine print’ database for nonbanks

The Bureau is planning to establish a nonbank registry that would house non-negotiable form contracts that waive or limit consumer rights and protections in the fine print—terms that, for example, restrict consumer complaints, waive class action rights, and limit bankruptcy rights and liability amounts.

Buried in the fine print of some nonbank contracts, the CFPB has found improper: 

  • Arbitration agreements for military service members; 
  • Prohibitions on class action (group) lawsuits related to credit report error investigations; and 
  • Limits on the lender’s liability for bank fees resulting from repeated attempts to debit payments from an account that lacks sufficient funds. 

The CFPB’s proposed "fine print” registry would publish anti-consumer terms imposed by FinTechs, mortgage lenders and servicers, payday lenders, private student loan lenders, auto financers, credit bureaus, debt collectors and remittance providers supervised by the Bureau.

Class Action Database: Kentucky-made “South of France” brand misled consumers

By Monica Steinisch

Among recent settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database is the $10 million settlement Nestle agreed to in a case alleging that the company made false claims about the number of servings each container of its Coffee mate powdered creamer yielded. 

Of note is the class action settlement in a case against Kirk’s Naturals for allegedly making false and misleading representations of the company’s beauty care products sold under the “South of France” brand. Plaintiffs alleged that consumers are led to believe, by the brand name, French translations on the label and an image of the southern French coastline, that the defendant’s products—bar soap, hand wash, body creams, etc.—are manufactured in and imported from France, when actually they are made in Kentucky. The suit accuses Kirk’s of leveraging references to France—the country has a reputation for producing high-quality beauty products—to justify higher prices that consumers would not have been willing to pay if they had known the items were made in the U.S. You may be eligible for a payment of up to $80 (depending on the number of products purchased and whether you have proof of purchase) if you bought any of the products between Sept. 3, 2015, and Aug. 12, 2022.

The claims deadline is May 1, 2023. 

About Consumer Action

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Consumer Action is a nonprofit organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial and consumer literacy and advocating for consumer rights both in the media and before lawmakers to promote economic justice for all. With the resources and infrastructure to reach millions of consumers, Consumer Action is one of the most recognized, effective and trusted consumer organizations in the nation.

Consumer education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of educational resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth information on many topics related to personal money management, housing, insurance and privacy. At, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database, and more. Our in-language media outreach allows us to share scam alerts and other timely consumer news with a wide non-English-speaking audience.

Community outreach. With a special focus on serving low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of more than 6,500 community-based organizations. Outreach services include in-person and web-based training and dissemination of financial and consumer education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Consumer Action’s network is the largest and most diverse of its kind.

Advocacy. Consumer Action is deeply committed to ensuring that underrepresented consumers are represented in the national media and in front of lawmakers. The organization promotes pro-consumer policy, regulation and legislation by taking positions on dozens of bills at the state and national levels and submitting comments and testimony on a host of consumer protection issues. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.



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