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Advancing consumers’ interests

As President John F. Kennedy said in 1962, “The federal government — by nature the highest spokesman for all the people — has a special obligation to be alert to the consumer’s needs and to advance the consumer’s interests.” That obligation is at the heart of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s mission and is on full display in our consumer response function.

Since last year, our consumer response team has been taking complaints on credit cards and mortgages. We are hearing directly from consumers about the problems they face and are helping them bring their concerns to the attention of their financial institutions. It is incredibly satisfying to be able to help individual consumers receive redress. And every complaint we receive helps us understand the challenges facing consumers, and they inform and shape our priorities at the Consumer Bureau.

That is why I am so pleased to announce that today we are expanding our consumer response system to take consumer complaints on checking and savings accounts. By the end of the year, we will be taking consumer complaints on all consumer financial products and services. But adding deposit accounts is an important step for us.

Deposit accounts play a critical role in the lives of most Americans. We use our checking accounts and other bank services for cashing paychecks, paying monthly bills, making purchases, withdrawing funds, and managing our money. Many of us store our rainy day fund in a savings account. But checking and savings accounts — whether they are with a credit union, a thrift, or a bank — can also be a source of great frustration. We have heard story after story of consumers being hit with fees they did not expect and do not understand. We take these complaints very seriously.

We are looking for ways to innovate and improve the consumer complaint process. We expect banks to respond to complaints within 15 days and close them within 60 days. We have also created a 21st century system where consumers can log in to our website at any time and check the status of their case.

We took another step in that process this week with a redesign of our website. The homepage more prominently features the Bureau’s work to protect consumers, and a new navigation bar makes it easier for all of our visitors to access our work. If you have thoughts or suggestions about how we can improve our processes, please let us know.

The Bureau began taking credit card inquiries and complaints when we launched on July 21, 2011. In December, we began handling complaints on mortgages and other home loans. Today’s announcement represents the third phase of our Consumer Response complaints program. Our Consumer Response team has already received and resolved thousands of complaints on mortgages and credit cards. As of Feb. 22, 2012, the Bureau had received over 20,000 complaints, including nearly 7,000 on mortgages and almost 12,000 on credit cards.

We have heard about three major issue areas with respect to credit cards: consumer confusion, third-party fraud, and factual disputes between the consumer and the card issuer. For mortgages, the biggest complaint source has been foreclosures, and the majority of those complaints have been sent to the bank or mortgage company for review and response.

So reach out to us and tell us your story. And if you have a complaint you would like us to address, you can do that at our website as well, or you can call us at 1-855-411-CFPB. Tell us your concerns, and we will work with you and your financial institution to address them.

At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we are always ready to listen, to learn, and — as President Kennedy said — to seek ways to advance the consumer’s interests.

Richard Cordray is the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

This piece originally appeared on the HUFFINGTON POST under the title Advancing Consumers’ Interests .

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