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Three years of standing up for consumers

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in the wake of the financial meltdown to stand up for consumers, make sure they’re treated fairly, and restore trust in the consumer financial marketplace.

Our focus is on making financial markets work for American consumers — whether they’re applying for a mortgage, borrowing for college, choosing a credit card, or using any number of other consumer financial products.

We officially opened our doors on July 21, 2011 — three years ago today. Since then, we’ve used a range of tools in our toolbox to protect consumers: writing rules of the road, supervising and enforcing those rules, responding to consumer complaints, and much more.

Here’s a look at our work so far by the numbers.

Helping consumers help themselves

When we opened in 2011, we immediately launched a system to collect consumer complaints. Since then, we have handled over 400,000 complaints in multiple languages about credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts and services, student loans, credit reporting, money transfers, debt collection, payday loans, vehicle and other consumer loans – and most recently, prepaid cards.

In many cases we’re able to get people some relief – either money back or things like correcting their credit report or stopping harassing phone calls by debt collectors. Our Consumer Complaint Database allows you to see what consumers complained about and why, as well as how and when the company in question responds.

We’ve developed many other consumer resources too, including:

Here’s more about our efforts to help consumers help themselves.

Establishing strong consumer protections

Risky mortgage lending contributed to the crash of the American economy, and shoddy mortgage servicing practices compounded the misery by pushing many consumers into foreclosure. Since opening our doors, we’ve been hard at work establishing new, common-sense mortgage rules to protect consumers at every stage of the process – from shopping for a loan, to closing on a mortgage, to paying it back. These rules represent a back-to-basics approach to the mortgage market.

We’ve also written rules with new protections for consumers of money transfers and credit cards, as well as new rules to supervise larger nonbank debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, and student loan servicers for the first time at the federal level.

In the years ahead, we’ll be shifting to focus on rules that root out deception, debt traps, and dead ends across markets. The goal is a marketplace where the costs and risks are clear, and no consumer is harmed by unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices.

Here’s more on our efforts to write rules that establish strong consumer protections.

Enforcing consumer protection laws

In addition to providing consumer resources and writing rules, we enforce federal consumer financial protection laws and work to hold bad actors accountable for their actions. To date, our enforcement actions have resulted in $4.6 billion in relief for roughly 15 million consumers harmed by illegal practices.

Through our credit card enforcement actions, we’ve returned nearly $1.8 billion to millions of consumers harmed by deceptive marketing and enrollment, unfair billing, and discriminatory credit card practices. In mortgage servicing, we’ve ordered $2.6 billion in relief for consumers harmed by systematic misconduct by mortgage servicers. We’ve also taken action against firms illegally taking advantage of consumers struggling with debt, helping other companies collect illegal fees from consumers, and using predatory or deceptive lending and debt collection practices.

Here’s more on our enforcement of consumer protection laws.

With our full set of tools, we’re looking to create a marketplace where costs and risks are clear, and no consumer is harmed by unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices.

Thanks to so many of you for your birthday wishes. Time for us to blow out the candles and get back to work!

Three years of standing up for consumers

We participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking (again)

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Coders, technology enthusiast, economist, teachers, high school students, and entrepreneurs joined representatives from more than seven government agencies for the second annual National Day of Civic Hacking from May 31- June 1. The event was locally organized and held in Washington, D.C. to confront complex societal problems affecting our neighborhoods, communities, and country.

During the event, we participated and watched representatives from traditionally disconnected groups work together on some of the most pressing issues facing the local and federal government. We asked participants to analyze our public Consumer Complaint Database and our Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Database.

The challenge

We challenged the participants to come up with ways to empower consumers by building tools and visualizations using two of our databases: our consumer complaint database and our HMDA database. Since the launch of the complaint database in June 2012, the number of consumer complaints has increased rapidly, surpassing the 300,000 mark earlier this spring. The breadth of the database now includes complaints on seven categories of products, ranging from credit cards to mortgages. Further, the HMDA database contains 6 years’ worth of mortgage transaction data, approximately 112 million records. Together, these two data sets provide a strong and open foundation for the public to generate interesting data analysis and application.

During the event, we were able to answer questions from civic hackers interested in using the data to build visualizations and applications. Local students Andy Zhao, Derek Zhou, Joe Zhou, Joie Wang, Kyle Zhou, and Rachel Wu, used our publicly available data to build a visualization tool that demonstrated which products, issues, and companies consumers are complaining about, as well as the cities and towns where complaints are most prominent. Druv Sharma, Hui Hung Martin Dertz, and Neisan Massarrat, used the HMDA data to build maps that illustrate lending patterns with respect to gender. This is exactly the type of involvement we’re hoping for and illustrates the opportunities we have to expand this type of public engagement.

What’s next?

We hope to connect with other communities interested in engaging with our databases. We believe there are opportunities for coders, developers, and others with strong technical prowess to build innovative tools and applications that can enable consumers to live better financial lives.

Got a cool data project to share? Just tweet at @cfpb with #CFPBdata.

Now recruiting: Technology & Innovation Fellows for 2015

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We’re excited to announce applications are now being accepted for the next round of CFPB Technology & Innovation Fellows. The fellowship is a two year program for software developers, graphic and user experience (UX) designers, data specialists, and cybersecurity professionals interested in leveraging technology to help further our mission of making financial products and services work for consumers.

We’re looking for talented individuals with diverse backgrounds who embrace our mission and are excited about building technology and helping to build our organization. We expect the next group of fellows to begin work in January 2015.

Since the program launched two years ago, fellows have been hard at work applying their talents to build amazing things to help financial products and services work for consumers. Today, I’m proud to share with you some of their work.

Fellows have been instrumental in creating and building:

Looking ahead, the next round of fellows will continue to build on these accomplishments as well as tackle new projects in areas such as building software for our website, developing consumer-friendly tools and materials, and supporting agency cybersecurity functions.

Technology and innovation are fundamental to our ability to achieve our consumer protection mission. If you’re ready to serve the public and help us build amazing things, apply now or sign up here.

Want to learn more? Check us out on GitHub or GitHub.io to learn more about the web applications our current fellows have developed and check out our Design Reel to see how current fellows have improved the ways consumers interact with the federal government.

Truth in Lending rule now available in easier-to-navigate format

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The public, industry, and the government all benefit from regulations that are easier to find, read, and understand. That is why last year we launched our eRegulations tool which combines important information that can often be difficult to navigate or is spread throughout a regulation, often separated by dozens or even hundreds of pages. Ideally, using eRegulations will lead to better compliance and improved accessibility.

Now, as part of the eRegulations tool, we’re launching an intuitive, easier-to-navigate electronic format of Regulation Z, which implements the Truth in Lending Act. Regulation Z is the flagship federal regulation protecting consumers when it comes to credit products. Regulation Z can be complex to understand for people who have not specialized in it. And it has changed a lot recently with the addition of new rights and disclosures for mortgages.

By adding Regulation Z, one of the most complex and heavily-consulted consumer financial regulations, we can help mortgage stakeholders better understand and comply with the recent amendments implementing the Ability to Repay rules, the new federal mortgage integrated disclosures, and other changes. Stakeholders who deal with credit cards, auto loans, student loans, and other consumer credit will also benefit, because Regulation Z covers virtually all forms of consumer credit.

In order to help stakeholders navigate changes to the regulation, eRegulations displays the currently effective version of Regulation Z, previous versions beginning December 30, 2011, and any planned versions that are not yet effective (but are published in the Federal Register). In addition, a new feature allows you to compare two versions of a regulation, and see the differences in your browser. For example, check out the differences in §1026.32 between 2011 and the current regulation.

eRegulations going forward

As we continue our work to make regulations easier to use, we need to hear from you about what works best and how this tool is valuable to you.

How can you help?

First, if you haven’t seen eRegulations, check it out.

Next, tell us what you think. Help us understand if the tool is more helpful to you than regulatory sources that you use today (and why) and what about this tool is most valuable or what could be better.

Finally, share it. Help us get the eRegulations tool into the hands of others who can use it and benefit from it. This tool is open source, so we’d love for other agencies, developers, or groups to use it and adapt it.

A note from our lawyers

Please note, eRegulations is not an official legal edition of the Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register, and it does not replace the official versions of those publications.

New tools to explore mortgage data

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Last fall, we released a web-based tool showing basic mortgage statistics for counties and cities across the country. Today, we are adding new features so you can explore the data in more flexible ways.

What are the new features?
The updated tool is loaded with features and flexibility. You can use the new features to analyze trends in your area or across the nation. Software developers can use our Application Programming Interface (API) to build their own tools.

  • Choose custom filters. You can choose to see only the data you want. Filter the data by geography (state, metropolitan area, county, and census tract), loan characteristics, property type, and more. We provide some suggested filters to help you get started.
  • Create custom summary tables. For example, you can compare refinances and home purchases over the past few years, or see county-level trends in federally related mortgages.
  • Download the data. Once you have the data you want, you can download it in the format of your choice. We offer CSV, which is compatible with most spreadsheet programs. We also offer JSON, JSONP, and XML, which are standards commonly used by software developers. You can also preview the first 100 records before you download the data.
  • Save and share results. Each query has a unique web address, so you can save and share your results. Just click on the “share” button to copy the link. Then, paste it into a document, an email, a Facebook post, a tweet, or anywhere else you’d like to share it.
  • Tools for developers. Software developers can use and contribute to our API. Software engineers and developers interested in improving the underlying Public Data Platform (aka, Qu) can get involved on GitHub. API developers who want to build tools using the API can browse the documentation, and if there are technical questions, you can engage with CFPB developers using GitHub issue tracking.

What kinds of information are in the data?
Our tool comes loaded with data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). HMDA requires certain banks and other financial institutions to collect, report, and publicly disclose information about mortgage loans and applications. In 2012, HMDA data included approximately 18.7 million records from 7,400 financial institutions. The data are publicly released every year, usually in September.

You can use our tool to explore information about loans, lenders, properties, and borrower demographics. For example, the data has information about the type of loan being made, such as whether it’s backed by a government program through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or Federal Housing Administration (FHA). It’s important to note that the data do not include direct identifying information, like names or Social Security numbers. To learn more, read our Privacy Impact Assessment.

Get started
If you are new to HMDA data, start with our introductory video. You’ll learn about the data, how it’s collected, why it’s useful, and what variables it contains. Then, check out our maps and charts. If you want to do your own analyses, you can explore the data. Software developers should check out our API and documentation.

Making regulations easier to use

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We write rules to protect consumers, but what actually protects consumers is people: advocates knowing what rights people have, government agencies’ supervision and enforcement staff having a clear view of what potential violations to look out for; and responsible industry employees following the rules.

Today, we’re releasing a new open source tool we built, eRegulations, to help make regulations easier to understand. Check it out: consumerfinance.gov/eregulations

One thing that’s become clear during our two years as an agency is that federal regulations can be difficult to navigate. Finding answers to questions about a regulation is hard. Frequently, it means connecting information from different places, spread throughout a regulation, often separated by dozens or even hundreds of pages. As a result, we found people were trying to understand regulations by using paper editions, several different online tools to piece together the relevant information, or even paid subscription services that still don’t make things easy, and are expensive.

“Right now I’m stuck using a combination of paper, e-CFR, online FR, and commercially available tools . . . “

This is a common complaint, and one that we were excited to take a crack at. The above quote came from one of our regulations attorneys. That attorney went on to say:

“…but only (the) eRegulations tool combines it all in one place, and also puts it in a useful, usable, and readable format.”

So, how does eRegulations make using regulations easier?

The public, industry, and the government, including CFPB, all benefit from regulations that are easier to use. With that goal in mind, we set out to build a tool with the following features:

  • Easy to search and navigate.
  • Key terms are defined throughout.
  • Official interpretations are available throughout.
  • Include certain sections of the “Federal Register preambles” to help explain the background to any particular paragraph.
  • Ability to see previous, current, and future versions.

We loved talking to regulators, from CFPB and elsewhere, to prototype, test and improve ideas – it’s how we created the tool that accomplishes these goals. Ideally, using eRegulations will lead to better compliance, more efficient supervision, and improved accessibility.

Here’s hoping that even more people who work with regulations will have the same reaction as this member of our bank supervision team:

 “The eRegulations site has been very helpful to my work. It has become my go-to resource on Reg. E and the Official Interpretations. I use it several times a week in the course of completing regulatory compliance evaluations. My prior preference was to use the printed book or e-CFR, but I’ve found the eRegulations (tool) to be easier to read, search, and navigate than the printed book, and more efficient than the e-CFR because of the way eRegs incorporates the commentary.”

New rules about international money transfers – also called “remittances” –  in Regulation E will take effect on October 28, 2013, and you can now use the eRegulations tool to check out the regulation.

We need your help

There are two ways we’d love your help with our work to make regulations easier to use. First, the tool is a work in progress.  If you have comments or suggestions, please write to us at CFPB_eRegs_Team@cfpb.gov. We read every message and would love to hear what you think.

Second, the tool is open source, so we’d love for other agencies, developers, or groups to use it and adapt it. And remember, the first time a citizen developer suggested a change to our open source software, it was to fix a typo (thanks again, by the way!), so no contribution is too small.

A note from our lawyers

Please note, eRegulations is not an official legal edition of the Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register, and it does not replace the official versions of those publications.