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Four years working for you

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CFPB - Four years working for you
On July 21, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will turn four years old. While our doors have only been open for a short time, our work is helping to create a financial marketplace that works for you. We’re listening to your experiences through the complaints you submit, creating new consumer protections for financial products and services, holding bad actors accountable for breaking the rules, and developing useful tools and resources to empower you to make informed financial decisions.

The CFPB was created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as a direct result of the financial crisis in 2008. We were created to stand up for consumers and make sure everyone is treated fairly. To us, our work is about hearing the struggles you face in the financial marketplace and empowering you to make the best financial decisions. It’s also about rooting out bad actors or bad practices that cause harm or stand between you and your financial goals.

We hear stories like that of Ari, a servicemember, and his dad Harry who were dealing with predatory auto loans, and Venida who found an error on her credit report. They are not the only ones dealing with these problems. Their stories exemplify how you can make a difference in your financial situation.

We are here to protect consumers

Your complaints and stories play an important part in our work. As of this month, we’ve handled more than 650,000 of your complaints. When you submit your complaints and tell us your stories, it helps us spot problems and risks, and work to ensure a fair financial marketplace.

The mortgage servicing rules we enacted have brought more transparency to the home-owning process, keeping your mortgage servicers from giving you runarounds or losing your documents. For those who send money out of the country, we have created rules that make sure you know how much money will actually reach your intended recipient.

We’ve also held bad actors accountable in the marketplace, securing $10.8 billion in relief to consumers who were harmed by illegal practices. Over our four years, we have taken action against credit card companies, payday lenders, banks, mortgage companies, debt collectors, and many more.

We are your resource

Just as Venida and Harry used our resources to get help in the financial marketplace, we welcome you to do the same. We have created a number of tools and resources for you to use to help avoid financial problems, plan for the future, and reach your financial goals.

Whether you’re getting ready to make big financial decisions like Paying for College or Owning a Home, or just looking for unbiased answers to financial questions about your mortgage, your credit score, or how to deal with debt collectors, we’ve got tools to help you get answers and make the best decisions for you and your family.

You have the right to fair and transparent financial products and services and we’re committed to continue working for you.

In the coming days, we’ll share more about the work we’ve done leading up to today, so stay tuned.

Updated July 21, 2015: Graphic and text updated to reflect the amount of relief to consumers who were harmed by illegal practices.

CFPB - Four years working for you infographic

Tell us about your student debt stress

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http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201505_cfpb-student-debt-stress-header

If you are paying back student loans, you are not alone. Over 40 million Americans are repaying more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. Significant debt can have a domino effect on the major choices you make in your life: whether to take a particular job, whether to move, whether to buy a home, even whether to get married. For many of you, student debt stress makes these big milestones seem out of reach.

We’ve heard that some student loan servicers (the company that sends you a bill each month) may be adding to that stress. We’re seeking information from the public about the student loan servicing practices that may make it harder to get ahead of your debt.

We want to hear from you about your experience with your student loan servicer. If you’ve run into roadblocks, tell us about it – for example, we want to know if you’ve had payment processing problems, servicing transfer snags, communication confusion, or any other challenges when repaying your student debt.

Simply click this link to send us an email, which will be included in the public record. Please don’t include sensitive information like account numbers and social security numbers. We’re accepting comments through July 13.

In the infographic below, you can learn more about roadblocks some borrowers have encountered when dealing with their student loan servicers.

http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201505_cfpb-student-debt-stress-header

We’re also calling on other stakeholders, including financial institutions, colleges, consumer advocates and policy experts to share their feedback. A full list of questions we’re asking the public are available in our Request for Information.

In the next few weeks, we encourage you to check back for more information about our work to strengthen student loan servicing and to hear the experiences of others with student debt. Be sure to tell others about the chance to include their stories in the public record. Spread the word to friends and family with student debt stress using  #StudentDebtStress on social media, but remember you must click this link to email an official comment.

If you have questions about repaying your student loans, check out our Repay Student Debt feature of Paying for College to find out how you can tackle your student loan debt.

If you have a problem with your student loan, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372.

Having trouble with a link in this blog post? You can also submit an official comment online.

Sprint and Verizon will refund $120 million to consumers harmed by illegal billing practices

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Today we’re announcing settlements with Sprint and Verizon, who illegally billed consumers over a hundred million dollars in unauthorized third-party charges. If approved, these settlements will return $120 million directly to affected consumers.

Sprint’s and Verizon’s customers became victims by clicking on ads for “free” digital content such as ring tones or daily horoscopes, and were then charged without their consent. Many people did not know that third parties could add charges to their wireless bills. The illegal billing often continued undetected for months.

Sprint’s and Verizon’s billing systems invited illegal third-party charges and the companies did little or nothing to root them out. Sprint and Verizon also failed to properly track and respond to consumer complaints about these charges, while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue by serving as payment processors for these third-party companies. Sprint and Verizon received a 30-40 percent cut of every third-party charge.

Under the Dodd-Frank Act, we can hold companies, including payment processors and lenders, accountable when they engage in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices.

If you believe you may have been impacted

Verizon customers can submit claims for refunds at www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com and learn more about the settlement by calling (888) 726-7063. Sprint customers can submit claims for refunds at www.SprintRefundPSMS.com or learn more about the settlement by calling (877) 389-8787.

Consumer advisory: You’ve got options when it comes to overdraft

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Today, we’re announcing an enforcement action against Alabama-based Regions Bank for charging overdraft fees to consumers who had not opted-in for overdraft coverage. We’re requiring Regions Bank to fully refund all affected consumers – hundreds of thousands of consumers have already been refunded $49 million in fees. We’re also fining the company $7.5 million for its illegal actions and its slow response to correct the errors.

We want to take this opportunity to remind you that you have a choice when it comes to overdraft protection programs and these programs can be costly.

What is an overdraft?

An overdraft occurs when you don’t have enough money in your account to cover a transaction, but the bank pays for it anyway. Transactions include ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases. Many banks and credit unions offer overdraft protection programs in which your institution will pay for the transaction and charge you a fee (in addition to requiring you to repay the overdraft amount). For most banks, the overdraft fee is a fixed amount regardless of the amount of the transaction. And, you could incur several fees in a single day.

Overdraft programs are optional

You can choose not to have debit overdraft. Knowing your status allows you to decide what is best for you. Your bank or credit union can’t charge you for overdraft fees on ATM or debit card transactions unless you’re enrolled in an overdraft protection program.

If you decide not to enroll, your bank will likely decline ATM or debit card purchases when your account doesn’t have enough funds to cover them, but you won’t be charged a fee.

You should also keep in mind that banks and credit unions are allowed to charge you overdraft fees when the bank or credit union pays a check or certain recurring electronic payments that would have overdrawn your account, even if you did not opt in to overdraft protection.

How you can reduce or eliminate overdraft fees

  • You can opt out of overdraft protection programs anytime. This means that your debit or ATM card may be declined if you don’t have enough money in your account to cover a purchase or ATM withdrawal. However, it also means you won’t be charged for these transactions.
  • Link your checking account to a savings account. If you overdraw your checking account, your bank will take money from your linked savings account to cover the difference. You may be charged a transfer fee when this happens, but it’s usually much lower than the fee for an overdraft.
  • Ask your financial institution if you’re eligible for a line of credit or linked credit card to cover overdrafts. You may have to pay a fee when the credit line is tapped, and you will owe interest on the amount you borrowed, but this is still a much cheaper way to cover a brief cash shortfall.
  • Track your balance as carefully as you can and sign up for low balance alerts to let you know when you’re at risk of overdrawing your account. If you have regular electronic transfers, such as rent, mortgage payments or utility bills, make sure you know how much they will be and on what day they occur. You also need to know when the funds you have deposited become available for your use.
  • Shop around for a different account. Get a copy of your bank or credit union’s list of account fees, or ask about them, then compare them with account fees at other banks or credit unions. Assess your habits honestly and consider penalty fees, such as overdraft and non-sufficient funds charges, as well as monthly maintenance, ATM surcharge, and other service fees. When comparing banks or credit unions, also consider factors such as the hours of operation, locations, access to public transportation, available products and services, and reputation for customer service.

You can get a printer-friendly version of this information about overdraft options to share with friends and colleagues.

You can also check out Ask CFPB for more information about overdraft protection programs and fees. If you have a problem with overdraft fees or any other financial products, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

Your complaint is more than data—it’s your story

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Since we started accepting complaints in July 2011, we have handled more than 550,000 from people all over the country about problems in the financial marketplace. These complaints help us understand the problems you face and focus our efforts to protect consumers like you.

While you can see hundreds of thousands of these complaints in the Consumer Complaint Database, these complaints are much more than just data to us. These complaints reflect real and tough challenges people face every day as they try to navigate the financial world.

You’ve shared your story with us through your complaint before, but now we’re giving you the choice to publish your story in our Consumer Complaint Database. Sharing what happened to you with the public can help others see what’s happening in the financial marketplace.

Share your whole story, everyone will see it

When you submit a complaint to us, you tell us what happened. This is a space where you explain the circumstances, your frustrations, and your perspective on the problem. This is where you state your case using the dates and details of transactions and tell about your interactions with the company you are reporting. Beginning today, if you submit your complaint online you can choose to share your story on our Consumer Complaint Database , where anyone can come and see it.

Of course, we will review your narrative and remove any personal information to minimize the risk that the information could be used to identify you. If you decide not to share your story, we won’t make your story publicly available and it will not affect how we handle your complaint.

Later this year, you’ll start to see these narratives in our database. Making your story public will give more people, including you, the power to improve the financial marketplace.

Lifting your voice

The Consumer Complaint Database currently includes only some information about your situation, for example, the type of product you wrote to us about and what kind of action the company took to help. Now, with this new policy, your voice can explain the situation you are in and give the context surrounding your complaint. This will make it easier for anyone exploring our database to truly understand what happened.

Facing a problem with a financial product or service? Let us know. We’d like to hear about it!

Consumer advisory: 3 pension advance traps to avoid

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Many retirees depend on a pension to cover day-to-day as well as occasional unexpected expenses, such as health emergencies or home repairs. We’ve heard that some retirees with pensions who are facing financial challenges have responded to ads for cash advances on their pensions. Although pension advances may seem like a “quick fix” to your financial problems, they can eat into your retirement income when you start paying back the advance plus interest and fees.

A pension advance is a cash advance in exchange for a portion, or all, of your future pension payments. Pension advance companies typically charge high interest rates and fees and often target government retirees with pensions. Former servicemembers should also be on guard. Military retirees and veterans who receive monetary benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have been offered pension advances even though it’s illegal for lenders to take a military pension or veterans’ benefits. Many of those companies use patriotic-sounding names or logos and even claim they are endorsed by the VA as a way of enticing potential customers.

If you or a loved one is considering a pension advance, consider your alternatives. A financial coach or credit counselor can help you weigh your options and plan for new or unexpected financial demands. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) provides a list of member agencies around the country. You can also search for local credit counseling agencies on the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCA)’s website.

Here are 3 things you can do to protect your retirement pension:

  1. Avoid loans with high fees and interest. Pension advance companies may not always advertise their fees and interest rates, but you will certainly feel them in your bottom line. Before you sign anything, learn what you are getting and how much you are giving up.
  2. Don’t sign over control of your benefits. Companies sometimes arrange for monthly payments to be automatically deposited in a newly created bank account so the company can withdraw payments, fees and interest charges from the account. This leaves you with little control.
  3. Don’t buy life insurance that you don’t want or need. Pension advance companies sometimes require consumers to sign up for life insurance with the company as the consumer’s beneficiary. If you sign up for life insurance with the pension advance company as your beneficiary, you could end up footing the bill, whether you know it or not.

You can also get a printer-friendly version of this information to share with friends or clients who are considering pension advances.

If you know someone who’s received a pension advance offer, we want to hear about their experiences, good and bad. Please ask them to share their story at consumerfinance.gov/your-story/.