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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/.

Special announcement for Corinthian students

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Along with the U.S. Department of Education, today we announced more than $480 million in forgiveness for borrowers who took out Corinthian College’s high-cost private student loans. ECMC Group, the new owner of a number of Corinthian schools, will not operate a private student loan program for seven years and agreed to a series of new consumer protections.

As part of today’s announcement, we’re also releasing a special bulletin for current and former students enrolled at Corinthian-owned schools with more information. We urge you to read it carefully so you fully understand your options and obligations on your student loans.

If you experience difficulty with your student loan you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372. You can also find more information about options for repaying your student loan on our website.

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

7 factors that determine your mortgage interest rate

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If you’re like most people, you want to get the lowest interest rate that you can find on your mortgage loan. But how is your interest rate determined? That can be difficult to figure out for even the savviest of mortgage shoppers.

Your lender knows how your interest rate gets determined, and we think you should, too. That’s why we’ve created a new interactive tool that lets you explore the factors that affect your interest rate and see what rates you can expect.

Armed with information, you can have confident conversations with lenders and ask questions to make sure you get a good deal. Here are seven key factors that affect your interest rate that you should know:

1. Credit score

Your credit score is a number that lenders use to help predict how reliable you’ll be in paying off your loan. Your credit score is calculated from your credit report, which shows all your loans and credit cards and your payment history on each one. In general, if you have a higher credit score, you’ll be able to get a lower interest rate. You can use our tool to explore how your credit score impacts the rates available.

Before you start mortgage shopping, get your credit report. Check for errors, and make sure to get them fixed. Examine your debts, and see if there are any you can pay down to improve your score. Learn more about how to raise your score.

Credit scoring is complicated—in fact, you have many credit scores, not just one. You can learn more about how mortgage lenders evaluate your credit history and use credit scores.

It’s a good idea to try to get a sense of your credit score range before you start mortgage shopping. Once you have an idea of your credit score range, put it into our tool to get more accurate rates.

2. Home location

Many lenders have slightly different pricing depending on what state you live in, so to get the most accurate rates using our tool, you’ll need to put in your state. If you live in a rural area, you can use our tool to get a sense of rates for your situation, but you’ll want to shop around with local lenders as well. Making a loan in a rural area can be more complicated, so large lenders may not serve that area.

3. Home price and loan amount

Your home price minus your down payment is the amount you’ll have to borrow for your mortgage loan. Typically, you’ll pay a higher interest rate on that loan if you’re taking out a particularly small or particularly large loan.

If you’ve already started shopping for homes, you may have an idea of the price range of the home you hope to buy. If you’re just getting started, real estate websites can help you get a sense of typical prices in the neighborhoods you’re interested in.

4. Down payment

In general, a higher down payment means a lower interest rate, because lenders see a lower level of risk when you have more stake in the property. So if you can put 20 percent or more down, do it—you’ll usually get a lower interest rate.

If you can’t afford 20 percent down, experiment to see how lower amounts affect your rate.

5. Loan term

The term of your loan is how long you have to repay the loan. In general, shorter term loans have lower interest rates and lower overall costs, but higher monthly payments. Learn more about your loan term, and then try out different choices with our tool to see how your term affects your rate and interest costs.

6. Interest rate type

Interest rates come in two basic types: fixed and adjustable. Fixed interest rates don’t change over time. Adjustable rates have an initial fixed period, after which they go up or down based on the market.

In general, you can get a lower initial interest rate with an adjustable-rate loan, but that rate might increase significantly later on. Learn more about interest rate types, and then use the tool to see how this choice affects interest rates.

7. Loan type

There are several broad categories of loans, known as conventional, FHA, and VA loans. Rates can be significantly different depending on what loan type you choose. You can learn more about the different loan types in our Owning a Home loan options guide.

Now you know

That’s it—know these seven factors and you’ll be well on your way to getting a great interest rate for your situation. And just remember:

  • You don’t need to have all seven of these factors decided before experimenting in our tool.
  • As you consider your budget and learn more about your options, come back often. The more you know, the more accurate the rates will be.
  • As you start talking to lenders, compare their offers to the rates in the tool to see if you are getting a good deal.

Now go forth and find a great mortgage rate!

Nearly half of mortgage borrowers don’t shop around when they buy a home

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47 percent of homebuyers do not compare lendersBuying a home is a big purchase, but it’s just that: a purchase. When it comes to spending money on our daily expenses, we have lots of options to help us find the best deal possible. Take, for example, digital gadgets. To get a good deal you can search for sales, find coupon codes, and research whether it’s less expensive to buy something from a big box retailer or on the manufacturer’s website.

We shop to find the best price for laptops or appliances, but a report of recent mortgage borrowers found that almost half of us don’t shop around for a mortgage when we buy a home.

Failing to shop for a mortgage could cost you. Consumers who consider interest rates offered by multiple lenders or brokers may see substantial differences in the rates. For example, our research showed that a borrower taking out a 30-year fixed rate conventional loan could get rates that vary by more than half a percent. Getting an interest rate of 4.0% instead of 4.5% translates into approximately $60 savings per month. Over the first five years, you would save about $3,500 in mortgage payments. In addition, the lower interest rate means that you’d pay off an additional $1,400 in principal in the first five years, even while making lower payments.

The survey of 2013 mortgage borrowers also found that modern mortgage borrowers:

  • Often fail to shop: Almost half of borrowers seriously consider only a single lender or broker before deciding where to apply.
  • Apply to only one lender or broker: Seventy-seven percent of borrowers only end up applying with a single lender or broker, instead of filling out applications with multiple lenders or brokers to see which can offer the best deal.
  • Rely on information from people with something to sell: Lenders and brokers were the most popular source for information about mortgages, with 70 percent of mortgage borrowers reporting that they used them “a lot” as a source of information. Thirty percent of borrowers say they relied heavily on their real estate agent for mortgage information. While lenders, brokers, and real estate agents can be informative, they also have a stake in the transaction. The report found many fewer, 20 to 41 percent of borrowers, get a lot of their information from outside sources such as websites, financial and housing counselors, or friends, relatives or coworkers.
  • Shop more if they know more: Borrowers who were confident about their knowledge of available interest rates were almost twice as likely to shop as consumers who reported being unfamiliar with available interest rates.

We believe that mortgage borrowers should be shopping around. We’ve created Owning a Home, an interactive, online set of resources and tools designed to help borrowers approach the mortgage shopping process, with more information.

Owning a Home sets out to help you feel comfortable shopping in the mortgage market. These unbiased tools and resources aim to inform and empower you when you are shopping for a mortgage. The tools take you from the very start of the home buying process through to the closing table. At every step, Owning a Home provides information and questions to ask. The tools include:

  • Guide to loan options: A primer on the loans available to help you finance your home. In this resource, you’ll find information on the length or term of loans, whether a loan is fixed or adjustable, the different loan types available, including FHA and VA loans.
  • Tool to see what interest rates are offered to people in your situation: A dynamic tool that lets you input your information, like credit score and down payment, to see what interest rates people with similar financial situations have been offered. You can play around to see how different factors affect the rates.
  • Guide to closing documents: A document that explains the important closing forms, so you know what information is on the forms, and where to find it.
  • Closing checklist: Closing is when you finalize your mortgage. You need to go into the process prepared and ready to enter into your contract. Our checklist helps you to realize what you need to do, and gets you ready for closing, one step at a time.

Our survey will continue each year, and we look forward to hearing more from borrowers to see if our Owning a Home tools change the way the modern mortgage borrower approaches the mortgage market.

Check out our report for more in-depth research on consumers’ responses. Then check out Owning a Home to help you navigate the market, ask the questions, and take the steps that will help you find the mortgage that’s right for you.

Infographic: shopping for a mortgage can really pay off. 47 percent of homebuyers don't compare lenders. Visiting just three lenders could save you thousands. You can put that savings to use. We're here to help you with the home buying process. Our Owning a Home tools show you the interest rates that others with a similar financial background are being offered, help you understand loan options, and ease the closing process so you can make smarter decisions about your mortgage. Visit http://consumerfinance.gov/owning-a-home

Consumer Advisory: 7 ways to keep medical debt in check

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Debt collection is the top complaint we’ve received since September 2013. Out of all debt types, medical collections make up 52 percent of collection accounts on credit reports, far outpacing all other types of debt.

Medical collections are so widespread, that an estimated 43 million consumers with an account in collection have medical debt. We analyzed medical collections in our latest report, to explain why medical debt is affecting so many more credit reports than any other type of debt. You can read more about how medical debt hurts your credit report.

Here are steps you can take to keep medical debt in check:

1. Review medical bills carefully

If you don’t recognize the provider, check the date of service to see if you had a medical treatment on that day. For more complicated procedures, ask for an itemized bill from the provider in order to check how much you were charged for each service. Some providers who bill you directly may have been associated with a hospital where you were treated, so you may not have known you were receiving services from them at the time you were being treated.

2. Get documentation

Prepare an organized record of all bills. If you need to dispute a bill, send a written notice to the provider and include a copy of all relevant documents, such as records from doctors’ offices or credit card statements. Do not send original documents.

3. Check your health insurance policy and make sure your provider has your correct insurance info

You should know what your insurance covers, and what it doesn’t – but first your insurance information needs to be up-to-date and accurate! A small mix up can lead to big bills for expenses that your insurance should have covered.

4. Act quickly to resolve or dispute the medical bills that you receive

If you have verified you owe the bill, try to resolve it right away. Verify whether an insurer is paying for all or part of a bill. If you delay the bill and let it end up in collections, it can have a significant impact on your credit score. If you don’t owe the bill, act quickly to dispute it.

5. Negotiate your bill

Hospitals may negotiate the amount of the bill with you. The tab may be reduced if you pay the whole amount up front. You can also try asking for the rate that people who have insurance get. The hospital might also offer a plan that enables you to pay off the debt in installments at no interest. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

6. Get financial assistance or support

Many hospitals have financial assistance programs, which may be called “charity care,” if you are unable to pay your bill. Check the deadlines, which can vary.

7. Don’t put medical bills on your credit card, if you can’t pay it

If you can’t immediately pay off a high debt on your credit card bill, you will be charged high interest, and it will look like regular debt to other creditors. Instead, ask your medical provider for a payment plan with little or no interest.

Related information about debt collection

Check out Ask CFPB to learn more about your debt collection rights and to learn about medical credit cards.

If you’re dealing with debt in general, you can consider finding a reputable credit counseling agency.