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Posts from April 2012

Continuing our promise of diversity

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Today is my first day as the Director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at the CFPB. I am excited to be here and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce myself and the work of my office to you.

I’m coming to the CFPB after serving nine years at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Commission). There I worked to protect the public from unlawful discrimination and harassment in all work situations, such as hiring, firing, promotions, training, wages, and benefits. In 2009, I was appointed the Acting Chairman of the Commission. In that role I helped the Commission recover over $370 million dollars in relief for victims of discrimination in the workplace. I was the first Administration official to testify before Congress in support of the proposed Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I also led the Commission to adopt new guidance that helps employers avoid gender and disability discrimination against workers who have caregiving responsibilities to their families.

Earlier in my career, I was appointed the Acting Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and I served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice in its Civil Rights Division.

Some people fall into their line of work and others know exactly what they want early on. I think I’m a bit of both. Years ago I saw an opportunity to do great work for Americans who are often underrepresented and underserved. It has been my passion to work to ensure that those people have a voice and fair access to opportunities. I believe that equal opportunities, diversity, and inclusion are what make this country thrive – they are what make us great.

I came to the CFPB because I know this is a place that shares those same values. Here we have a team that understands that to help all consumers we need to have a wide range of perspectives in-house. Our Office of Minority and Women Inclusion will work to ensure that diversity and inclusion are more than just considerations; they are defining standards for the work we do.

The CFPB’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion will ensure that the CFPB fulfills its commitment to diversity by:

  • Developing and implementing standards of equal employment;
  • Developing standards for assessing the diversity policies and practices of
    CFPB-regulated entities;
  • Advising on the impact of Bureau policies and regulations on minority and women-owned businesses; and
  • Coordinating with the Director to create and implement solutions to civil rights violations.

The CFPB has done a lot since July 2011 and as we near our one-year anniversary there is still much to be done. The Office of Minority and Women Inclusion is here to ensure that as we move forward, diversity and inclusion will continue to be essential guideposts for the CFPB and its work.

Accountability in military education

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Tomorrow, April 27th, I will join the President and First Lady at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where he will sign an Executive Order directing the Departments of Education, Defense, and Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), to take steps to ensure that servicemembers, veterans and their families can get the information they need about the schools where they spend their education benefits. His directive also strengthens oversight and accountability of the schools that offer educational programs to the military.

I applaud this effort to see that servicemembers, veterans, and their families get the most “bang for their buck” when they use their educational benefits. During the past year I’ve traveled to military installations in 15 states and spoken to active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve military members and their families. I’ve also met with veterans and their families, as well as those who advocate for them. One issue that has come up repeatedly in my conversations with them is the challenge of making an informed decision on where to use GI Bill and Military Tuition Assistance benefits. How do they find a quality school that will charge them a fair price, provide adequate support, and set them up for success after graduation without a mountain of student loan debt holding them back?

Too often the schools being selected are for-profit institutions more notable for their slick marketing than for their academic credentials and sound value, much less the gainful employment history of their graduates. Here are just a few stories I’ve heard on my travels:

  • An active-duty military spouse at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was under the impression she was attending a “military-affiliated college” (she wasn’t; it was a for-profit school with no official military status). After she filled out an interest form she was called 10-15 times a day until she enrolled. When she had trouble logging on to her online class, she couldn’t get anyone from the college to help her. She failed the class due to lack of access but was charged the full fee.
  • National Guard education officers in Ohio and North Carolina told me they are besieged by for-profit colleges desiring access to the troops. They noted that if they hold a job fair, over half the tables may be for-profit colleges, and that servicemembers may see a school’s presence at a job fair as an implied promise that you will get a job if you graduate from that school.
  • A veteran at a forum I attended in Chicago, Illinois, had used up her benefits and incurred $100,000 in student loan debt for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from a for-profit college, but was unable to find an employer who was interested in her degrees. She was still working at the same job she had before she went to college.

The CFPB has been working on military education issues. This month at ConsumerFinance.gov we began testing a new online tool, the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper, which includes a military benefits calculator, to help people compare options at different colleges, as well as see graduation and retention rates. We have set up a student loan complaint system, and my office reviews all complaints from servicemembers, veterans, and their families. And we’ve been coordinating with the Federal Trade Commission and the Departments of Justice, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Defense on military education issues.

It’s in everyone’s interest to see that military education dollars are well-spent. If they are, they will provide our country with educated veterans and family members who, like the World War II generation before them, can become the engine that drives our economy forward.

Holly Petraeus leads the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Last year, she wrote about the incentives that lead for-profit colleges to see servicemembers as “nothing more than dollar signs in uniforms.”

Learn more about the Know Before You Owe project for student loans.

Taking your kids to work is a great time to talk about money

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My kids were so excited when I asked them if they wanted to come to work with me today. At ages 6 and 9, this will be their first Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. They’re curious to see where Dad works, but honestly, I think they are more excited about getting a day out of the classroom.

The CFPB is focused on consumer financial products and services, so we are using today to teach our children about personal finances – our theme is Spend Save Share. About 115 of our children ages 6 through 18 will take part in the financially focused activities throughout the morning.

This is also a good opportunity for all parents to teach their children a little something about money. It’s a chance to talk about how parents work for money, and how our salaries give us a limited amount of money to spend every month. Parents can also talk about how they have to use some of that money to pay for the family’s needs, like food, clothing and shelter, and how we might have to save for other things we want.

Having regular conversations about money, and using teachable moments at the grocery store or when you’re paying bills are just as important, and serve as opportunities to help your daughters and sons understand money choices year-round.

Surveys show that children look first to their parent or parents as financial examples and for financial information and advice. According to a recent survey, 82 percent of teens said their parents taught them the basics about money management and 77 percent said their parents were their financial role models.

In many parts of the country, family may be one of the only sources of financial education. According to a different survey, 22 states require students to take an economics course as a high school graduation requirement, but only 13 states require a personal finance course or personal finances included in economics.

The CFPB will be one of about 3.5 million workplaces participating in the 20th annual Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. More than 37 million youth and adults participate each year. The event’s national theme for 2012 is “Build Opportunity: 20 Years of Education, Empowerment, Experience.”

Educating your children about earning, saving, spending, comparing, or needs versus wants achieves the goals expressed in this theme, and so much more.

To keep the conversation going …

One of our demonstrations today will be a review of some popular video games and information. There are lots of games and resources that teach financial principles responsibly in imaginative and fun ways. We have chosen some to share today, but this is not intended to be an endorsement of these games by the CFPB. Here are a few:

Join us in Cleveland and New York: We’re recruiting a 21st century supervision workforce

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Since we opened for business on July 21, 2011, we have been building our supervision team. Next week, we will host a recruiting event in Cleveland on Friday, April 27. A second event is planned in New York on Friday, May 4.

These meetings are an opportunity for those with relevant industry experience to learn more about the work of our supervision team and to explore joining the teams that report to regional offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York.

In addition to representatives from our Human Capital team, we are happy that senior CFPB leadership, and the directors of the Midwest and Northeast regional offices will join us in Cleveland and New York.

Click here for more details about the events.

You can see new job vacancy announcements for our supervision team on our jobs page. If you have questions, contact jobs@cfpb.gov.

Comment period on overdrafts extended to June 29

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In February, we launched a public inquiry and an industry research study to gain insight into overdraft practices. Both initiatives are continuing and will provide us with great perspective on how overdraft programs work.

The Notice and Request for Information originally called for all public comments by the end of this month. While we’ve already netted a tremendous number of responses, we’ve also received requests for more time. So, we have decided to extend the deadline 60 days to June 29 to ensure all stakeholders have sufficient time to respond to our questions and enable us to learn as much as we can from the public’s input.

Consumers sometimes use overdraft programs to meet critical cash flow needs. However, overdraft programs also have the capacity to inflict serious economic harm on individuals. We heard numerous stories at our event in New York and since of how consumers racked up large fee balances, sometimes unknowingly. At the same time, we appreciate consumers can benefit greatly by having their bank or credit union cover an important payment that may have otherwise bounced.

We are committed to being an information-driven organization. In our quest to monitor risks posed to consumers in the financial services marketplace, we have set out to understand the impacts, both good and bad, that consumers derive from bank overdraft programs. In addition to how overdraft programs work, we are interested in:

  • How consumers utilize overdraft programs,
  • The information provided to consumers that inform their everyday banking decisions,
  • Alternatives consumers have for meeting short-term shortfalls,
  • How recent regulations and changes in bank products and terms have impacted overdraft incidence, and
  • The costs financial services providers incur to provide banking and overdraft services.

The information we collect will inform how we regulate and the guidance we give to consumers to make smart financial decisions.

Do you have a story or information to share with us? If so, please submit a response to the Request for Information.

Protecting older Americans in Tampa Bay

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Last week, I was back in Florida. Stetson University’s College of Law invited me to speak at its annual Elder Consumer Protection Law Day. It was a beautiful day in Tampa Bay!

I started the day with an early morning “Think Tank” breakfast – a meeting of regional leaders coming together to discuss ideas and share approaches on the issue of elder consumer protection. This meeting brought together area elder advocacy leaders, elder law attorneys, regulators, prosecutors, and local and federal law enforcement. I described our work here at the CFPB and learned from them about the increasing number and frequency of scams and frauds which target older Americans. I learned about the excellent multidisciplinary work by – and cooperation between – many elder fraud teams in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, and others, in the Tampa area. Our conversation produced the promise of an annual Think Tank on Elder Consumer Law Day.

I then toured Stetson’s Eleazer Elder Courtroom, a specially designed courtroom for older advocates, judges and witnesses. Some of these design elements featured deadened background noise to make it easier to hear, better screens to make it easier to see exhibits, and a new podium and doors to make it easier for wheelchair-bound advocates and witnesses to move around the courtroom. Most of these accommodations are invisible. They would be a big help in every courtroom for every advocate and witness.

As we all know, raising awareness about the frauds and scams facing older Americans is key to my work. I gave a local TV interview you can see on the Tampa Bay Tribune’s website. (I also have some consumer advice that will be available on the Stetson University Law School website.)

My favorite part of the day was speaking to an audience of over 150 seniors who had come for Consumer Protection Law Day. I described what the CFPB is doing on their behalf, and the work of my office, in particular. Our lively question and answer period continued long after my remarks. I listened to many stories about the epidemic rise in identity theft of seniors’ personal information. This serious concern has many seniors worried about the effect of identity theft on their credit rating, their credit card accounts and their income tax refunds. I brought their concerns back to the Bureau for a further look.

I also visited with over 40 exhibitors at the event, who provided important sources of information for seniors. In addition to handouts, seniors received important services including on-site secure document shredding drop-off, registration with the do-not-call/opt-out registration, and free annual credit report services.

This meeting gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn directly from seniors about how they are faring in this economy. It also gave me a chance to learn what the law school is doing to create courses to for young lawyers to concentrate in the area of elder law. As our senior population continues to grow over the next 20 years, this work will become more and more important.

Thank you, Stetson!