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Save the date: Join us for a Consumer Advisory Board meeting in Washington, D.C.

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Join us for a Consumer Advisory Board meeting with Director Cordray where we will discuss the consumer experience in the credit reporting market.

10:00 a.m. EST, Thursday, February 27
Constitution Center (Auditorium)
400 7th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20024

Director Cordray will give remarks, and our Consumer Advisory Board will listen to consumer groups, community and industry representatives, and members of the public.

This event is open to the public and requires an RSVP.

To RSVP, email cfpb.events@cfpb.gov with:

  • Your full name
  • Your organizational affiliation (if any)
  • Subject line: Consumer Advisory Board

You can take a look at the meeting’s agenda. You can also check out our schedule of upcoming and previous Board and Council meetings.

Don’t forget! The deadline to apply to be part of the Consumer Advisory Board and Councils is on February 28th. Check out the announcement for directions to apply.

See you there!

Getting a grip on income tax season

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With the beginning of the New Year comes income tax season—that time between late January and April 15 when almost all American households have to file a tax return. It’s not too early to get a grip on your taxes.

Solutions for filing your taxes

Around this time of year, you’ll see lots of advertisements and information about tax preparation and tax filing services. Here are some facts to help you sort through your options.

Get help with your taxes for free

  • If your income is $52,000 or less, you can get free tax preparation assistance at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) location near you.
  • If your income is $58,000 or less and you’re age 60 or older, free tax preparation assistance is available through Tax Counseling for the Elderly. Find a location near you.
  • Ask a friend or search online to see if free tax preparation assistance is offered at other places in your area (for example, at community centers, churches, or clubs).

Do it yourself

Not sure you need to file at all?
Depending on your age, income, and filing status, you might not technically be required to file a return. It might still be a good idea to file, though. You might receive a tax refund, or you might be eligible for tax credits. The IRS has guidance to help you decide whether you need to file.

Take care of your tax refund, so it can take care of you

Ads on TV and radio may be tempting, claiming to get your tax refund money the next day, or even before you file your taxes. But these offers can be expensive. Here are some ways to make the most of your refund.

  • Use direct deposit. If possible, file your return electronically and have your refund direct-deposited into your bank or credit union account. The IRS issues most refunds within 21 days, often less—with no fees or charges. You can even keep track of your refund’s progress online.
  • Avoid tax refund advances. When a company promises a faster refund, they’re not actually getting your money from the IRS faster than you can. Instead, they’re lending you the money, and they’ll charge you for the loan. With direct deposit, you can get your full refund, usually within 21 days.
  • Pay your tax preparer up front. If you decide to use a paid tax preparer, the person may offer to take their fee out of your refund. This may seem convenient, but it can have a high cost. For example, if the fee for tax preparation is $200, they might tack on a $30 charge for the convenience of paying the fee out of your refund in a couple weeks. The $30 advance on a $200 purchase is like a loan with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 260 percent.
  • Save some of your refund. It’s free, easy, and fast to put some of your refund into savings when you file your tax return. Include your savings account information when you file yourself, or bring the information with you when you see a tax preparer. Once you’re done, check out SaveYourRefund —some nonprofits offer added incentives for saving.

Does your organization provide services to taxpayers?

We’re partnering with a number of VITA sites on a “Ready? Set. Save!” campaign. If your organization helps people prepare their taxes, you can download the Ready? Set, Save! materials and use them this tax season:

New tools to explore mortgage data

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Last fall, we released a web-based tool showing basic mortgage statistics for counties and cities across the country. Today, we are adding new features so you can explore the data in more flexible ways.

What are the new features?
The updated tool is loaded with features and flexibility. You can use the new features to analyze trends in your area or across the nation. Software developers can use our Application Programming Interface (API) to build their own tools.

  • Choose custom filters. You can choose to see only the data you want. Filter the data by geography (state, metropolitan area, county, and census tract), loan characteristics, property type, and more. We provide some suggested filters to help you get started.
  • Create custom summary tables. For example, you can compare refinances and home purchases over the past few years, or see county-level trends in federally related mortgages.
  • Download the data. Once you have the data you want, you can download it in the format of your choice. We offer CSV, which is compatible with most spreadsheet programs. We also offer JSON, JSONP, and XML, which are standards commonly used by software developers. You can also preview the first 100 records before you download the data.
  • Save and share results. Each query has a unique web address, so you can save and share your results. Just click on the “share” button to copy the link. Then, paste it into a document, an email, a Facebook post, a tweet, or anywhere else you’d like to share it.
  • Tools for developers. Software developers can use and contribute to our API. Software engineers and developers interested in improving the underlying Public Data Platform (aka, Qu) can get involved on GitHub. API developers who want to build tools using the API can browse the documentation, and if there are technical questions, you can engage with CFPB developers using GitHub issue tracking.

What kinds of information are in the data?
Our tool comes loaded with data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). HMDA requires certain banks and other financial institutions to collect, report, and publicly disclose information about mortgage loans and applications. In 2012, HMDA data included approximately 18.7 million records from 7,400 financial institutions. The data are publicly released every year, usually in September.

You can use our tool to explore information about loans, lenders, properties, and borrower demographics. For example, the data has information about the type of loan being made, such as whether it’s backed by a government program through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or Federal Housing Administration (FHA). It’s important to note that the data do not include direct identifying information, like names or Social Security numbers. To learn more, read our Privacy Impact Assessment.

Get started
If you are new to HMDA data, start with our introductory video. You’ll learn about the data, how it’s collected, why it’s useful, and what variables it contains. Then, check out our maps and charts. If you want to do your own analyses, you can explore the data. Software developers should check out our API and documentation.

What’s the deal with health care credit cards? Four things you should know

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Recently, many patients facing medical procedures have seen their health care providers suggest deferred interest rate credit cards as a payment option. Unfortunately, health care providers don’t always explain how these deferred interest credit cards work. We want to make sure that you get the facts you need.

Four things to know about cards with deferred interest rates

This type of credit card isn’t new. You may have seen ads on television, online, or in retail shops for promotional rates like zero-percent interest for the first year. No matter where the credit cards come from—a medical office or a mall store—they have a few features in common. Here’s what you need to know:

1. How to avoid paying interest

Make on-time payments each month and pay off your balance by the end of the promotional period. Minimum payments usually aren’t enough to pay off your entire balance by the end of the promotional period, so think about paying more than the minimum amount each month. Or, save up enough to pay the final amount before the promotional period ends.

2. What happens at the end of the promotional period

If you haven’t paid off the balance for your purchase when the promotional period ends, you’ll be charged interest on your balance for each month, starting from when you first made the purchase. Your credit card company must tell you the date by which you must pay off your balance to avoid paying interest. The date must appear on the front of your bill. If you aren’t sure when your promotional period ends, call your credit card company.

3. Using the card for other purchases

Before using the card again, check with the credit card company to see if you have a “grace period” and how it works. Without a grace period, you’ll pay interest on new purchases from the date you make them.

4. Details matter

Keep track of minimum payments and payment addresses to make sure small errors don’t add up to large interest and penalty charges.

Case in point: GE CareCredit cards

We brought an enforcement action against GE CareCredit to prevent deceptive and unfair credit card enrollment tactics. The enforcement action came after an investigation, where we found that consumers got incorrect information about how their cards worked, and later submitted complaints to us.

As a result of our enforcement action, all consumers enrolling in the CareCredit card in a health care provider’s office will receive a comprehensive “welcome” call from CareCredit within two to three days of enrollment. Certain consumers who sign up for a CareCredit card will speak directly to a representative prior to any enrollment or purchase of services. Additionally, CareCredit will enhance their disclosures to warn consumers when their promotional period is about to end. The company will also do more training of health care office personnel who offer the card. Finally, we ordered CareCredit to reimburse up to $34.1 million to customers who were victims of their deceptive credit card enrollment tactics.

Actions you can take

If you’re having trouble with a deferred interest credit card, you can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

For more answers about how deferred interest medical credit cards work, check out Ask CFPB.

We asked about your student loans and you answered

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A few months ago, we took a look at complaints and other input from private student loan borrowers. Many of you told us about stumbling blocks you face when trying to pay down your loans more quickly. In particular, we frequently hear that the process to allocate an extra payment to your loan with the highest interest rate – generally the best way to reduce your overall interest expense – is hard to navigate.

We wanted to help student loan borrowers who are trying to pay down higher-rate loans, so we created a sample letter that borrowers can send to their student loan servicer. This letter tells the loan servicer that any future payment greater than the amount due should be applied to the highest-rate loan.

We also asked student loan servicers to tell us more about their policies when borrowers are looking to pay off their loans more quickly. Many of them responded and here’s some of what we found:

  • Some servicers told us they have changed their policies so that extra payments are allocated to individual loans with the highest interest rate.
  • When making payments through your bank’s online bill pay service, any written instructions you provide to your service may not be forwarded on.
  • Some servicers will allow you to provide standing instructions on how to allocate payments to your account, so you can avoid making calls and writing letters each and every month .
  • Servicers do not seem to be proactively reaching out to consumers who regularly make extra payments on ways to provide instructions.

Check out the full summary of what we heard and tell us your story about your payment processing experience. If you are facing a specific problem with your student loan servicer, you can also submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-2372.

We recently finalized a rule to supervise certain nonbank student loan servicers to make sure they’re following the law.

For answers to questions about student loans, check out Ask CFPB and our other work for students.

New feedback system for GI Bill and Tuition Assistance recipients

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In April 2012, at Fort Stewart, GA, I was privileged to watch President Obama sign Executive Order 13607: Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service members, Veterans, Spouses and other Family Members.

The Order directed the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, in consultation with other government agencies, to create a system that would hold educational institutions accountable for the quality of the programs that they provide to those who use military-related education benefits. Its intent was to give military personnel, veterans, and their families the information they need to make informed decisions about where to spend their hard-earned military benefit dollars – and a place to complain if things went wrong.

Today, the CFPB is very pleased to join the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education, and Justice, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, in announcing a new online student complaint system where servicemembers, veterans, and their families can report negative experiences at education institutions and training programs administering the Post-9/11 GI Bill, DoD Military Tuition Assistance, and other military-related education benefit programs.

This new feedback system, modeled after CFPB’s complaint system, will help the government identify and address unfair, deceptive, and misleading practices. It’s also intended to have the larger effect of ensuring high-quality academic and student support services for veterans, service members, and their families.

Thanks to all the interagency partners who worked so hard to create this tool that gives military and veteran students the ability to help shape and improve the higher-education experience for themselves, their families and future veterans!

GI Bill recipients can use the new VA GI Bill® Feedback System. DoD Tuition Assistance recipients can provide their feedback as well.

The CFPB blog aims to facilitate conversations about our work. We want your comments to drive this conversation. Please be courteous, constructive, and on-topic. To help make the conversation productive, we encourage you to read our comment policy before posting. Comments on any post remain open for seven days from the date it was posted.