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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.

We’ve got answers to your financial questions

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In March 2012, we launched Ask CFPB, our database of clear, unbiased answers to your financial questions. At that time we had 360 answers. Last week, we added number 1,000.

While we’re excited about reaching 1,000, we’re really excited that more than 987,000 people have visited Ask CFPB to find answers to their financial questions.

One consumer let us know how Ask CFPB had helped in shopping for a mortgage:

“I am beginning the process of buying a home for the first time, and I have many basic questions about how mortgage lending works and what questions to ask as I shop around for the right lender. This site is so easy to use and I know I can trust the information. Thank you!”

Your feedback also helps us understand what’s missing. One concerned grandparent asked, “If I co-sign for my grandchild’s student loan, can the lender garnish my Social Security check if my grandchild can’t or won’t repay the loan?”

We had several questions about co-signing student loans, but we hadn’t answered this one yet. So we did.

We learn about what you need in many ways. We listen to the questions you ask at the events we hold throughout the country and the ones you pose through social media. We review the questions you submit to Ask CFPB. We also see what’s working for you by checking which answers are viewed the most and how they are rated.

Over the past year, many of you were interested in information about mortgages and credit reports and scores. Some of you are looking for a mortgage for the first time and want to know more about the Good Faith Estimate. Others want to know what information goes into a credit report and how to dispute an error.

All of your questions help us serve you better.

So, continue browsing, rating, and sharing Ask CFPB questions with your family and friends. One thousand answers is a pretty incredible milestone – one we’re proud of – but we want to know that the answers help you and your families find the information you’re looking for. We’ll keep working to ensure that they do!

Twitter: Let’s talk about #SeniorMoney

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We’re excited to host a twitter chat about older Americans and money on May 9, 2013 from 3-4 p.m. EDT.

We’ll have financial experts taking questions on what older Americans can do to find out if their financial advisers are really experts in their needs.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To participate, tweet questions with the hashtag #SeniorMoney and follow us @CFPB.

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Twitter: Let’s chat!

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We’re excited to co-host a twitter chat with the Federal Trade Commission and the General Services Administration as part of National Consumer Protection Week to answer questions about consumer issues on March 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. ET.

We’ll be taking questions on consumer finance products and services and other consumer issues.

Join the conversation

To participate, tweet questions with the hashtag #NCPW and follow us @CFPB.

More than 70 percent of people with 401(k)s don’t realize they’re paying fees

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Last week, I got my 401(k) plan fee disclosure notice in the mail. I almost threw it away.

At first, it looked like all of those form notices you get – you know, the ones with the window envelope and “US Postage Paid” in the top right-hand corner. Not the most exciting-looking mail.

So, why am I telling you?

Because I work for the Bureau’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, and because I’m an older American learning through my own experiences. A big part of our mission is to help people understand how to plan and save for retirement.

What’s a 401(k)?
A 401(k) account helps you to save for retirement by making contributions from your paycheck. In some plans, your employer also makes contributions. In many cases, participants choose from among the investment options available through the plan. The money saved in a 401(k) account, and the growth in the account, isn’t taxed until you retire. This tax deferment helps your retirement savings grow faster.

While everyone with a 401(k) plan pays fees, an AARP survey found that over 70 percent of people with a 401(k) thought that they weren’t paying any fees at all.

Possible fees include investment fees for the funds, stocks, bonds and other investments you choose, individual service fees for things like taking out a loan from the plan or selling shares in a particular investment fund, administrative fees and more.

That’s where last week’s mail comes in. Under a new rule from the Department of Labor, everyone with a 401(k) must receive an annual disclosure about fees. Many have received them already and more will get them in the mail around Labor Day. To see how fees can affect your retirement savings, check out this video:

How will this new information help me?
The disclosure will tell you the fees and expenses for the investment options your plan offers and how those investment funds have performed over time. You can use the statement to compare your options.

What can I do to get a better deal?
If you think the fees in your 401(k) plan are too high, you can ask your employer to find more cost-effective investment options or plan services.

What else do I need to know?
Remember that fees are not the only factor in choosing 401(k) investments. Your plan may offer access to professional investment advice. If you’re thinking about rolling over your 401(k) savings into an IRA, consider that IRAs have fees, too, and those fees could be higher than your 401(k) plan fees.

To learn more, the Department of Labor offers resources that cover what you should know about your retirement plan.

And of course, I’ll be there learning with you along the way.

Paying for College: Help us make it easier for you to choose

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April is a time when students and their families anxiously await their college acceptance letters. But for families across the country, the good news of getting into college isn’t the end of the anxiety. Figuring out how to finance a college education can also be daunting.

We want to find a way to make it easier to compare different options when making decisions on student debt. There is a lot of data out there on schools and loans, and we thought we’d try to get the key information into one place to help students see how their choices today might impact their financial lives in the future.

Today, we’re asking for your input to develop a new interactive tool to help navigate financial aid offers and student loans.

We’ve already put together a prototype. In this beta version, you can enter the financial aid information you’ve received from colleges, adjust your family’s contributions, input scholarships and military benefits, and much more. Our beta version can give you a rough estimate of your monthly payment after graduation, as well as a sense of your overall debt burden in relationship to the average starting salary of a college graduate. You can also see school-specific indicators like graduation rates.

But we need your help. We need students and families to tell us what is helpful and what is confusing. For the experts out there, we need you to tell us how to think about some of the technical assumptions, like interest rates and salary data. The information you provide will help us determine where to make both big changes and little tweaks.

We’ll be sure to report on what we’ve heard back to you and to other agencies working to make the process easier and simpler. Use the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper and tell us what you think.

We also challenge the developer community to make their own apps and web tools to help students make more informed decisions. Our prototype relies on data that are available to all of us, and we welcome the competition!

The CFPB wants to make sure that the student loan market works well for all students and their families. That’s why we worked closely with the Department of Education on our Know Before You Owe student loans project, launched a student loan complaint system, and created the Student Debt Repayment Assistant for borrowers navigating their repayment options.

With your help, we can make financial aid season a little less stressful when it comes to student loans.