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More financial empowerment tools for communities

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Today, we’re expanding the Your Money, Your Goals toolkit. This toolkit is a comprehensive and interactive guide designed for organizations that serve low-income consumers. It covers topics like budgeting for daily expenses, managing debt, and avoiding common financial traps. We’re releasing three versions of the toolkit for:

  • Organizations that engage volunteers
  • Legal aid organizations
  • Workers organizations

This expansion builds on the success of last year’s launch of Your Money, Your Goals. Since then, we’ve trained over 2,000 frontline staff in both public and private non-profit social service organizations. Staff that provide a wide range of services including homeless services, mental health and emergency services, case management, and nutrition assistance programs reported feeling more confident about identifying financial challenges and resources to help their clients.

We’re also teaming up with sites in 31 communities across 19 states to deliver workshops to community volunteers, legal aid staff, and other organizations that work with low-income consumers. These programs will enable organizations to train an additional 1,000 staff and volunteers this summer. For example:

  • NAACP state conferences and local branches will provide YMYG workshops through statewide events and community convenings.
  • Circles®, USA works to address poverty by strengthening the capacities of communities. Twelve local chapters in eight states will equip participants to put YMYG tools and resources to work in their communities.
  • Christ Our Redeemer Community Development Corporation in Irvine, CA, will engage a highly diverse group of community leaders and local congregations through the Orange County Interdenominational Alliance in its training effort.
  • The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will provide YMYG training to social services organizations throughout the state that engage volunteers to assist in serving clients as well as community, service, and faith-based organizations in Indianapolis.
  • Public Law Center in Santa Ana, CA, provides legal services to low-income individuals and will use the toolkit to help train their staff as well as the many volunteer lawyers they coordinate in Orange County.
  • Florida Legal Services (FLS) in Tallahassee, FL, is a statewide support center that works with local legal aid organizations to improve their ability to provide legal assistance to those in need in their communities by providing service delivery coordination, training, case consultation and technical assistance. FLS will help coordinate the training and delivery of the toolkit to other organizations in the state.
  • Community Legal Services in Phoenix, AZ, operates a volunteer lawyer program which will help coordinate with other volunteer lawyer and legal aid programs in other parts of the state to help Latino, Native American, and other clients access the empowerment tools.
  • Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is the third-largest legal aid and helps more than 20,000 low-income Texans get access to civil justice each year. TRLA will help coordinate trainings for other state legal aid and pro bono organizations.

The new toolkits contain additional resources including an implementation guide and presentation slides with trainer notes.

Millions of consumers will now have access to credit scores and reports through nonprofit counselors

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Millions of consumers will now be able to receive the credit scores and credit reports that nonprofit credit counselors purchase on their behalf.

Nonprofit organizations that offer credit counseling, housing counseling, and other financial counseling services buy credit reports and scores for the consumers they serve. These reports and scores help counselors engage in constructive conversations with their clients about steps the clients can take to improve their financial situation.

Until now, counseling organizations have generally been prohibited by their contracts with the credit reporting agencies from giving the consumer the credit report or score that they have purchased on that consumer’s behalf. For example, a nonprofit organization that purchases a credit report with a FICO credit score has typically signed a three-way agreement with one of the three large credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian) and FICO, agreeing not to provide the report or score to any entity, including the consumer.

This no-sharing policy is common in contracts signed by business users of credit reports and scores. But when applied to consumer counseling, it limits a client’s ability to review the credit history provided by the counselor on their own and may make the consumer more dependent on the counselor to take steps to manage or improve her credit standing. We’ve heard concerns about this issue from counselors and consumers across the country.

A policy change that will affect millions of consumers

FICO’s announcement today signals a change in this policy. FICO has reached new agreements with the three credit reporting agencies that will allow millions of consumers who receive nonprofit credit counseling, housing counseling, and other services to obtain a copy of the FICO score that these organizations have purchased. We’ve been working with industry to make progress on these issues and we are encouraged by this positive step. FICO has taken the additional step to create content to help these consumers understand the key factors that influence their credit scores.

A step in the right direction

These efforts build on our open credit score initiative, which is helping to increase consumers’ access to credit scores and credit reports and empower consumers to improve their financial lives. Last year, we launched this initiative by calling on more of the nation’s top credit card companies to make credit scores freely available to their customers. Today, more than more than a dozen major credit card issuers are providing credit scores directly and freely to consumers, and they are increasingly being joined by other types of consumer lenders as well.

As part of this ongoing effort, we brought counseling organizations’ concerns about restrictions on their clients’ access to credit information to the attention of the credit reporting companies and FICO and urged that these restrictions be removed. However, even with the policy change on FICO credit scores, individual contracts between the credit reporting agencies and counseling organizations still prohibit the organizations from sharing the credit reports with their clients. This restriction makes it harder for counselors to do their job. And it keeps the consumers they serve from benefiting fully from the credit information that the counseling service organizations have paid for.

We are encouraged that, as part of this ongoing effort to press forward on these issues, Experian is now updating its policy and nonprofit counselors that purchase credit reports on behalf of their consumer clients will soon be able to share that those reports, as well as the scores, with the consumer. We urge the other credit reporting agencies to take steps to make this credit information available as well.

Ending restrictions on sharing credit scores and reports by consumer financial counseling organizations will empower consumers to take more control of managing their credit and help counselors to do their jobs more effectively.

Learn more about credit reports and credit scores on Ask CFPB. Also, remember that consumers can always obtain a free annual copy of their credit reports.

Register for our research conference on consumer finance

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Join us for the CFPB Research Conference on May 7-8, 2015. The conference will be focused on high-quality consumer finance research, with academic and government researchers presenting their research papers. The conference will be held at:

United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing
300 14th Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20228

This event is open to the public, space permitting, and requires registration. You must register by Friday, May 1, 2015. Learn more about the event and register for the conference.

We hope to see you there!

Christopher Carroll is the CFPB’s Chief Economist and Assistant Director for Research.

Save the date: Join us for an Academic Research Council meeting in Washington, D.C.

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Join us for the Academic Research Council’s annual meeting on Thursday, May 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EDT. During this meeting, we’ll discuss trends in consumer finance research, the activities of consumer financial protection agencies in other countries, and recent publications produced by CFPB’s Office of Research. Director Cordray will also provide remarks.

For more information, you can check out the meeting agenda and event flyer.

The meeting will be held at:

United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing
300 14th Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20228

Please plan on arriving at least half an hour before the meeting begins to allow enough time to go through security. Enter the Bureau of Engraving and Printing through the entrance on the west side.

This event requires an RSVP. Send us an email to RSVP – your information will be provided to Bureau of Engraving and Printing security. Please RSVP by noon on Monday, May 4. A recording of the meeting will be available at a later date.

See you there!

The VA doesn’t send you mortgage ads

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We’re announcing an enforcement action against a lender that wrongfully used the logos of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). RMK Financial Corporation (also doing business as Majestic Home Loans) sent out ads to veterans and other VA-eligible borrowers that misled consumers to think that RMK’s products were endorsed by the VA, or even sent by the VA, and they misrepresented the terms and costs of the mortgages themselves. This is the fifth enforcement action we’ve completed in the past two months against companies using deceptive mortgage advertising.

Deceptive advertising to mislead consumers

RMK sent out mailings to over 100,000 consumers across the country. These ads used the name, seal, and logos of the VA, giving the impression that the VA had sent the ad or endorsed the product. Also, the ads misrepresented the price of the advertised mortgages, including whether the interest rate was fixed or variable. Sometimes, important disclosures about loan rates were hidden on the back of the ads or buried in fine print. Envelopes were plastered with warnings about “fines or imprisonment” under US law.

Two years ago, along with the Federal Trade Commission, we warned companies that were placing mortgage ads directed at consumers, some of which targeted those eligible for VA benefits. Since then, we’ve continued to investigate mortgage lenders, including RMK.

The VA won’t advertise to you

Mike Frueh, Director of the VA Home Loan Program, had this to say about mortgage offers that represent themselves as coming from the VA:

“VA will never email or mail out solicitations for our loan program. VA does not endorse or sponsor any particular lender; instead, we work to ensure all Veterans and Servicemembers can safely use the benefit they’ve earned, at the lender of their choice. If you have any questions about your home loan benefit, please visit the VA website, or call VA at (877) 827-3702.”

Here’s what you can do

While we may not reduce the volume of your junk mail as a result of today’s action, we hope that we’ve called attention to a significant problem. Here’s how you can avoid being taken in by similar offers:

  • Be a savvy consumer— look at everything an advertiser has to say about the product they’re selling. Today’s action involved a mortgage lender that placed flashy seals and logos front and center, but hid important disclosures in the fine print on the back of their ads.
  • Get information from trusted sources — even if an ad is plastered in official-looking seals and impressive endorsements, check with a trusted source to learn all you can about the product being advertised. Learn more about VA loans and refinances. Ask CFPB also has answers to some common questions.
  • Let us know about misleading ads— if you see an ad that looks deceptive or misleading, or just looks too good to be true, submit a complaint to us. We accept complaints about mortgages and other financial products marketed to veterans, such as consumer loans. Information you provide informs our work every day.

We’re suing a robo-call debt collector

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Today, we’re announcing that we filed a lawsuit against a robo-call debt collection operation, including its ringleaders, their companies, and service providers. The debt collectors allegedly sent millions of robo-calls to threaten, harass, and deceive consumers to collect debt that consumers do not owe, or were not owed to the debt collectors themselves. The complaint alleges that the scheme depended on the participation of the telemarketing company that sent the robo-calls and the payment processors that allowed the collectors to access consumers’ bank accounts.

Look for warning signs

If you don’t recognize a debt from a debt collector, ask the caller for their name, company, address, telephone number, and professional license number. If a caller is unable to provide you information about his company, or can’t verify information, do not give money to the caller or company. Learn more about warning signs that could signal a debt collection scam.

You have certain rights to ask a debt collector to verify debt. You can send a letter to the debt collector to request more information.

If you have a complaint about debt collection, you can submit a complaint online or by calling us at (855) 411-2372.

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