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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced today that servicemembers, veterans, and their families who complained to the Bureau about financial products or services have recovered more than $1 million. The relief was reported in the CFPB’s second snapshot of complaints from military consumers, which also highlighted how some military families are not receiving the added consumer protections they have earned. The report covers more than 14,000 complaints from servicemembers, veterans, and their families received by the CFPB from July 21, 2011 through February 1, 2014.
“Military families make enormous sacrifices for our nation and deserve to be protected,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “I am pleased that the Bureau has assisted thousands in cutting through red tape when dealing with their financial institutions. However, the complaints show that many servicemembers, veterans, and their families are not getting the protections accorded to them by federal laws and that raises concern.”
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which created the CFPB, established the Office of Servicemember Affairs to address specific consumer protection concerns for the nation’s military community. A priority of the office is to monitor the consumer complaints the Bureau receives from active-duty servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
By and large, the complaints submitted by the military track with those of the population at large. In the last fiscal quarter, the Bureau handled on average more than 250 complaints per week from military families. Complaints have come from every state, and every rank and branch of the Armed Services.
Servicemembers, veterans, and their families who complained to the CFPB have received more than $1 million in relief since July 2011. Not all servicemembers, veterans and their family members who submitted complaints received money; a number of them received non-monetary relief — such as cleaning up their credit reports, stopping harassment from debt collectors, and correcting account information — and some had their complaints closed without relief. But the Bureau has seen monetary relief returned to military consumers across all products. Among companies that reported monetary relief, this includes:
- A median amount of $470 for mortgages;
- A median amount of $143 for credit cards; and
- A median amount of $125 for bank account or service.
According to today’s snapshot report, the top three complaints by servicemembers, veterans, and their families are mortgages, debt collection, and credit cards.
Servicemember Protection Concerns
While servicemembers have all the protections that everyday consumers have, they may also have additional protections based on their military service. The CFPB is particularly concerned about when servicemembers are not seeing the unique protections accorded to them by federal laws. Specifically, the Bureau is concerned with:
- Debt collection: Since the Bureau began taking debt collection complaints in July 2013, it has quickly become the top complaint category for servicemembers. Specifically, the CFPB is concerned about aggressive and deceptive tactics used by debt collectors against military members. These tactics often involve contacting a servicemember’s military chain of command, threatening punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, threatening to have a servicemember reduced in rank, or threatening to have a servicemember’s security clearance revoked.
- Student loans: The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides financial protections so that members of the Armed Forces can undertake military duties without adverse financial consequences. But military consumers have reported problems obtaining correct and consistent information on available SCRA protections for their student loans. Some report being incorrectly told by their loan servicer that protections apply only when they are deployed or that the loan must be in deferment. Consumers also report they are repeatedly and incorrectly asked to submit additional documentation such as paperwork showing recertification of active duty status.
- Payday loans: The Military Lending Act (MLA) prohibits interest rates above 36 percent on some types of loans, including certain payday loans, auto title, and tax refund anticipation loans, to active-duty military, their spouses, and dependents. While the number of payday loan complaints received from servicemembers has been relatively small, the CFPB is concerned that lenders are skirting the MLA by lending just outside its narrow parameters.
- Mortgages: Military consumers have complained about mortgage servicers’ lack of knowledge about military-specific programs. They report that servicers are unaware of the guidance offered by the CFPB and the other prudential regulators that servicers must provide accurate and timely information about available assistance options when a military family gets Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders. Military consumers have also complained that servicers do not know about the short-sale guidelines aimed at assisting servicemembers with PCS orders, or that a PCS move may be considered a qualifying hardship for various foreclosure-prevention programs.
The CFPB accepts complaints about credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, payday loans, private student loans, consumer loans, credit reporting, debt collection, and money transfers. The Bureau requests that companies respond to complaints within 15 days and describe the steps they have taken or plan to take. The CFPB expects companies to close all but the most complicated complaints within 60 days. Complaints inform the Bureau’s work and help to identify problems, which then feed into the Bureau’s supervision and enforcement prioritization process.
The Bureau released its first snapshot of consumer complaints received from servicemembers, veterans, and their families in the spring of 2013.
To submit a complaint, consumers can:
- Go online at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint
- Call the toll-free phone number at 1-855-411-CFPB (2372) or TTY/TDD phone number at 1-855-729-CFPB (2372)
- Fax the CFPB at 1-855-237-2392
- Mail a letter to: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, Iowa 52244
- Additionally, through AskCFPB, consumers can get clear, unbiased answers to their questions about payday loans at consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb or by calling 1-855-411-CFPB (2372).
The full report can be found at: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201403_cfpb_snapshot-report_complaints-received-servicemembers.pdf
A blog about the report by Holly Petraeus, the Assistant Director for Servicemember Affairs, is at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/behind-the-numbers-servicemember-complaints/
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.