It’s Day 1 for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the new federal agency charged with watching out for consumers when it comes to credit cards and other financial products.
Starting today, consumer complaints about credit cards will be collected by a single government agency — rather than the hodgepodge of regulators that existed before.
New website debuts
So, if you have a beef with a credit card, you may now register it with the CFPB on its “File a credit card complaint” page.
Before today, consumers who wanted to file a complaint about a credit card issuer had to contact one of five different regulators, depending on the regulator that oversees the lender that issues the card. Consumers and consumer groups often complained about that complaint system, however, saying they often didn’t know which regulator to contact.
Consumers and lawmakers have complained that these regulators — the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the National Credit Union Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and various state banking regulators — too often gave low or no priority to consumer protection issues.
Now, the CFPB will handle consumer complaints, but only about credit cards for now. The complaint system won’t be up and running for all types of financial products for several more months, as the agency continues to hire staff. Also, because CFPB doesn’t have an official director yet (see Obama appoints nominee; but Senate must confirm director first), the agency won’t be able to address every type of complaint right away.
If you have concerns or complaints about other types of financial products, such as debt collectors, student loans or mortgages, the agency directs you to different federal agencies for help.
Card issuers have a chance to resolve problems first
For credit card complaints, as the site notes: “We’ll forward your issue to your credit card company, give you a tracking number, and keep you updated on the status of your complaint.”
That means that card issuers will have a chance to resolve your problem first. The fact that a federal regulator will be tracking the status of the complaint should increase the likelihood that consumer complaints will be addressed — at least in theory. Whether they are addressed to the consumer’s satisfaction is another issue.
The new website asks consumers to describe their credit card problem and what happened. They are asked to choose a category that best describes their complaint. Here are the choices:
- Advertising and marketing
- Application process delay
- APR or interest rate
- Balance transfer
- Balance transfer fee
- Billing disputes
- Billing statement
- Cash advance
- Cash advance fee
- Closing or canceling an account
- Collection debt dispute
- Collection practices
- Convenience checks
- Credit determination
- Credit card payment/debt protection
- Credit line increase or decrease
- Credit reporting
- Customer service or customer relations
- Delinquent account
- Forbearance or workout plans
- Identity theft, fraud or embezzlement
- Late fees
- Over-limit fees
- Other fees
- Payoff process
- Sale of account
- Transaction issue
- Unsolicited issuance of credit cards
Consumers are asked how much money they may have lost and whether they have tried to contact the credit card issuer, the CFPB or another government agency about their problem, or if they have hired an attorney or filed any legal action.
The site requires you to create a log in and allows you to go back later to check your complaint status. I looked for but could not find a toll-free telephone number or any phone number that would allow you to call the agency. When I asked, the agency said the number is (855) 411-CFPB (2372). The number will be added to the website later today.
There is an opportunity for a live chat with a real person if you have problems with the site. I tried the live chat this morning and it worked. There was no waiting. I was the only one in the queue and the pleasant “Consumer Response #412231” came online within seconds to chat. I can’t say that will be the case as the site becomes more well known and the volume of complaints picks up. (Click the image to enlarge.)
The complaint form asks consumers what they think “would be a fair resolution” to their problem. I smiled when I read that. They may get an earful from some consumers with that query! But you’re limited to 255 characters in your answer.
It’s important to note that credit card complaints have actually gone down in the last year. According to the annual report on consumer complaints published by the Federal Trade Commission, credit card complaints dropped by 26 percent in 2010. Consumer groups attribute the decline to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which banned surprise interest rate hikes and limited fees.
How are they doing?
The new agency has been upfront and transparent about its operations and is welcoming consumer and banking industry input on a variety of topics and issues.
Help us kick the tires on this new complaint system. If you have filed a complaint, let us know how it went. Was the form easy to understand? Did you experience any technical difficulties on the website?
Are you confidant that your issue will be addressed promptly? It may take a while for you to get a response. And please, come back later and let us know if you were satisfied with the resolution of your complaint.
Our readers can benefit from your feedback.
See also: New financial protection watchdog accepts credit card complaints, New agency arrives with broad powers to police financial products, Obama nominates director for consumer financial watchdog, FTC: Credit card complaints take nosedive in 2010