Can complaining to the government ever get you anywhere? A five-year-old federal agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is proving that it can. Examples: Complaints to the CFPB by consumers who had been overcharged by Navient, the nation’s largest student loan servicer, led to a government investigation resulting in $60 million in compensation to nearly 78,000 borrowers. And in September, the CFPB ordered Wells Fargo to refund inappropriate fees to customers after an investigation, which drew on the CFPB database as part of its probe, found that the bank had opened more than 2 million unauthorized accounts in customers’ names.
Overall in 2015, the CFPB received 271,600 complaints at ConsumerFinance.gov. According to studies in the past few years, 40% of the complaints about credit card issuers lead to some form of relief…as do nearly 30% of complaints about credit-reporting agencies…22% of complaints about debt collectors…and 11% of complaints about mortgage lenders. Monetary relief might take the form of a refund, and nonmonetary relief might involve getting a mistake corrected on your credit report.
The website’s public nature helps spur companies to action. The site posts complaints, company responses and whether consumers “dispute” those responses. But various legislators and financial industry officials have complained that information in complaints is inaccurate. And a federal appeals court ruled in October that the agency’s structure is unconstitutional but that the problem can be fixed by allowing the White House to oversee the agency.
When a complaint is filed against a company, the CFPB verifies that the customer had a business relationship with the company, among other steps. The agency then asks the company to respond within 15 days after complaints are forwarded to them and to “close” all but the most complicated cases within 60 days.