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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/.

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!