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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

Consumer advisory: 3 things to keep your retirement plan on track

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Compared to a decade ago, there are fewer older homeowners who own their homes free and clear. Older homeowners are also carrying more mortgage debt. While the share of older homeowners with a mortgage increased from 22 to 30 percent between 2001 and 2011, the median amount of their mortgage debt grew from about $43,400 to $79,000.

For many of the roughly 4.4 million retired homeowners with mortgages, making monthly mortgage payments on a fixed income on top of other monthly expenses is a hardship. You can read more in our snapshot of older consumers and mortgage debt.

We’ve got some things you can do to keep your retirement plan on track.

1. Plan for your mortgage pay-off date

For most older homeowners, maintaining their home is their largest expense during retirement, especially if they carry a mortgage. Making your mortgage pay-off date a part of your retirement plan will help you to manage and afford your housing costs.

For some, owning their home free and clear allows them to handle their monthly expenses and have a reserve on hand in case a financial emergency arises. Aiming for a mortgage payoff date that is earlier than your planned retirement age can help you manage expenses if your income decreases unexpectedly. While carrying a mortgage in retirement may not be a hardship for everyone, it’s always a good thing to include your mortgage pay-off date in your retirement plan.

Before paying off your mortgage, you may wish to discuss any tax and estate implications with your attorney, tax accountant or other financial professional.

2. Be careful when getting a new mortgage, refinancing, or tapping into your home equity

Many consumers take on new loans or refinance their existing mortgages to get a lower interest rate and/or monthly payment. Pay attention to the term of your new mortgage as it can affect your retirement plan. For example, taking on a new 30-year mortgage when you are nearing retirement can become a hardship later. Consider choosing a shorter-term mortgage, such as 10 or 15 years, when refinancing or buying a new home when you are close to retirement. You’ll have higher monthly payments now, while you’re still working, and be less likely to still have a mortgage in retirement.

If you’re considering getting a home equity loan or a reverse mortgage, you should revisit your retirement plan. Some people use their home equity to pay for varied expenses, such as home improvements, consolidating debt, medical bills or college tuitions. Consider how you will pay for unanticipated expenses in the future if you draw down on your equity now.

Using your home equity to consolidate credit card or other debts can be risky. A home equity lender can foreclose on your home if you miss payments.

3. Estimate your retirement income and expenses

Generally, people have less income when they retire. Retirement income (from pensions, social security, annuities, and other savings) typically won’t fully replace your work earnings. One study estimates that half of retirees without a pension will receive less than 65 percent of their pre-retirement income.

Knowing your expected retirement income and expenses is important, especially if you’re retiring with a mortgage. You’ll be able to plan and budget for your mortgage payments and other living costs, even if your taxes, insurance, and other housing costs go up.

Some expenses to keep in mind:

  • Older consumers often spend more for their health care and/or long-term care needs later in life than in their younger years.
  • Monthly mortgage payments on top of paying other monthly living expenses can pose a hardship or prevent you from meeting your retirement lifestyle goals. In 2011, older homeowners with a mortgage spent $800 more per month than their counterparts with no mortgage.
  • If you plan to age in your home, you may need to pay for home modifications. Adapting your home to age in place can cost thousands of dollars.

Resources to take action

Get your questions answered. We’ve got answers to your questions about mortgages and other topics.

Get help. If you’re behind on your mortgage, or having a hard time making payments, we want to get you in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor. We can help you find housing counselors near you.

Start making a plan. Calculate how much you’ll need and how to budget for retirement.

Submit a complaint if you have a problem with your mortgage. You can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372 or TTY/TDD (855) 729-2372. We’ll work to get you a response from the company.

Join us for a forum to discuss consumer issues for veterans

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We’re hosting an online forum on veteran consumer issues on Friday, May 9 at 2 p.m. EDT.

The event will focus on common consumer issues for veterans and military retirees. Highlights will include a review of tools that can help veterans capitalize on key benefits and information that can help them avoid consumer scams.

Whether you’re a veteran or if you work with veterans or military retirees, you can join us online and watch the event.

Register to join us on Friday, and watch the event live.

Consumer advisory: Co-signers can cause surprise defaults on your private student loans

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Today, we released a report that describes complaints we received related to the private student loan industry’s practice of placing borrowers in default even when their loans are current and in good standing. We’re also warning consumers that they can avoid surprise defaults by pursuing a co-signer release.

The vast majority of private student loans today have a co-signer (typically a parent or a grandparent). Having a co-signer can often lead to a lower interest rate, which can save you money in the long-term, because the co-signer will have to repay the loan if you don’t.

However, your loan might also contain provisions that allow your student loan servicer to put you in default — even if you’ve been making your payments on time.

That’s because your co-signer is also on the hook for your loan and therefore changes in their behavior can impact your loan, causing your loan to default and making your entire balance due all at once. We’ve received complaints that private student loan servicers are placing borrowers into default when their co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy.

Co-signer release

If you are a co-signer or have a student loan with a co-signer and you are in repayment, you should look into what’s called “co-signer release.” You should consider this option to avoid a surprise default. Both the borrower and co-signer can benefit from obtaining the release.

Many lenders advertise that a co-signer may be released from a private student loan after a certain number of consecutive, timely payments and a credit check to determine if you are eligible to repay the loan on your own. If your lender offers co-signer release, you will want to ask about this benefit and remove your co-signer as soon as you are eligible.

Unfortunately, many student loan servicers do not tell you when you are eligible to have your co-signer released, so you need to ask them how to do this.

To help you get started, we’ve put together sample letters you can edit and send to your student loan servicer. You can download sample letters to send by mail, or you can just cut and paste the text below into the “Send a Message” or “Contact Us” feature when you log into your account on the servicer’s website.

I want more information about how to obtain a release of my co-signer

I am writing to you because I am seeking the release of my co-signer on my loan. Please conduct a review of my account to determine if I am eligible for co-signer release.

If you determine that I am not eligible to have my co-signer released from my loans, please provide an explanation, including the following:

  • What is your current co-signer release policy?
  • For what reason(s) am I ineligible for co-signer release?
  • If I am not eligible for co-signer release now, when will I become eligible?
  • What steps do I need to take to qualify for co-signer release?
  • Do you anticipate modifying these requirements in the future? Will any future modifications apply to me when I seek to release my co-signer?

If I am unable to exercise this option at this time, please update/annotate my account to reflect that I intend to seek co-signer release as soon as possible. Please contact me at the point-in-time at which I am eligible to have my co-signer released.

In addition, if you are unable to provide any of the information or documentation I have requested or otherwise cannot comply with this request, please provide an explanation.

Thank you for your cooperation.

I am a co-signer, I want to be released

I am writing to request that I be released from my obligation to repay any loans associated with this account. Please conduct a review of this account and make a determination as to my eligibility to be released from my obligation.

If you determine that I am not eligible, please provide an explanation, including the following:

  • For what reason(s) am I ineligible for co-signer release?
  • What steps do I need to take to qualify for co-signer release?
  • What is your current co-signer release policy?
  • Do you anticipate modifying these requirements in the future? Will any future modifications apply to me when I seek to be released from this obligation?

If I am unable to exercise this option at this time, please update/annotate this account or accounts to reflect that I intend to do so as soon as possible. Please contact me at the point-in-time at which I am eligible for co-signer release.

In addition, if you are unable to provide any of the information or documentation I have requested or otherwise cannot comply with this request, please provide an explanation.

Thank you for your cooperation.

We also have other sample letters you can send to your student loan servicer to give payment instructions and others you can send to a student loan debt collector.

Remember, if you’re having a problem with a student loan, you can submit a complaint online or call us at (855) 411-2372.

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

Rohit Chopra is the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman. To learn more about our work for students and young Americans, visit consumerfinance.gov/students.

Explainer: Compensating consumers for Bank of America’s illegal tactics for credit card add-on products

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Today we’re fining Bank of America, N.A. and FIA Card Services, N.A. for unfairly billing consumers for services relating to identity theft protection “add-on” products and for using deceptive marketing and sales practices for credit protection “add-on” products.

We are also ordering Bank of America to refund fees and provide other redress to consumers. Approximately 2.9 million consumers will be receiving or already have received up to $727 million in refunds for fees they paid for these products and services as well as additional redress.

If you’re impacted by the announcement, you don’t have to take any action to receive a credit or check. If you are one of the consumers affected by the order, Bank of America should have already notified you or will notify you directly. If you have questions about whether you are entitled to a refund, you can contact Bank of America.

Who is eligible for compensation?

Nearly 1.4 million consumers have already received or will receive refunds of at least $250 million in fees for the “credit protection” products (Credit Protection Plus and Credit Protection Deluxe). You will receive refunds if you are a Bank of America customer who enrolled in these products at any time over the phone, were charged a fee between October 1, 2010 and March 31, 2013, and either did not activate benefits or who had  a request for benefits denied.

Approximately 1.5 million consumers purchased the “identity theft protection” products (Privacy Guard, PrivacySource, and Privacy Assist) and were improperly billed for services that were not performed. As a result, consumers paid at least $459 million in fees, interest, and over-limit charges for these products without receiving full services. Today’s announcement recognizes the refunds Bank of America has already provided to consumers harmed as a result of the illegal billing practices relating to these identity theft protection products.

Eligible consumers who were enrolled in the “identity theft protection” products received refunds if they enrolled in these products between October 2000 and September 2011 but did not receive full credit monitoring services, received only partial credit monitoring and/or credit report retrieval without notice, and/or didn’t receive credit report retrieval benefits.

What do eligible consumers get?

That depends on the product consumers were enrolled in and some other factors.

Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a “credit protection” product for less than a year, who made a request for benefits that was denied or closed, or who, complained to the CFPB or to Bank of America stating that they did not authorize enrollment in the product, will receive a refund of all fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013. Eligible consumers who were enrolled in a “credit protection” product for a year or more and who do not fall within any of the groups described above will receive a refund of 300 days of fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013.

Some consumers who were enrolled in “credit protection” product will also receive:

  1. A reduction in charged-off balances due to product fees charged from October 1, 2010 through March 31, 2013.
  2. “Credit protection” services for six months at no-cost for consumers enrolled in the product as of March 1, 2013.

Bank of America has already completed reimbursement for the “identity theft protection” eligible consumers, so eligible consumers should have already received refunds. If you have questions about receiving a refund for this product, you can contact Bank of America.

Bank of America is responsible for providing refunds

Watch out for scammers claiming they will get you a refund. When large numbers of consumers get refunds, scammers sometimes pop up. The scammer may charge you a fee or try to steal your personal information. If someone tries to charge you, tries to get you to disclose your personal information, or asks you to cash a check and send a portion to a third party in order to “claim your refund,” it’s a scam. Please call us at (855) 411-CFPB to report the scam.