The CFPB: Standing Up for Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

About the Authors:

Mary Griffin is the senior advisor for the Office of Financial Empowerment at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Previously, she worked for the Department of Treasury’s Office of Financial Stability, and for many years advocated before Congress and other legislative bodies on behalf of consumers and member-owned businesses in the areas of consumer finance, insurance, among others. She received her JD from Temple University and her LLM from George Washington University.

Mauricio Videla is a compliance examiner with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Previously, he worked in legal and compliance, retail banking, commercial insurance operations, and corporate governance roles at large private and public institutions, including TD Bank, N.A., Citibank, N.A., Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, and the Office of the Mayor of the City of New York. He holds leadership positions in the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section as vice chair of the Young Lawyers Committee and as young lawyer liaison to the Consumer Financial Services Committee. Videla earned a JD from Indiana University, an MPA from Baruch College, and a BA from St. John’s University.

This year marks five years since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) opened its doors in July 2011. The CFPB, an independent federal agency, was created in 2010 by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as a direct result of the 2008 financial crisis. The CFPB was designed to stand up for consumers and ensure that they are treated fairly in the financial marketplace. Our work is helping to create a financial marketplace that works for consumers. We are listening to consumers’ experiences through the complaints they submit, creating new consumer protections for financial products and services, holding companies accountable, and developing useful tools and resources to empower and educate consumers to make more informed financial decisions to meet their own life goals.

Protecting Consumers

The CFPB conducts its work across several areas, serving as a regulator, supervisor, enforcer, researcher, and educator.

Consumer complaints and stories play an important role in the CFPB’s work to identify problems, spot risks, and ensure a fair financial marketplace. Consumers can submit their complaints for free online at consumerfinance.gov or by phone at 855-411-CFPB (2372). As of February 1, 2016, the CFPB has received more than 811,000 complaints about consumer financial products and services, including mortgages, credit reports, debt collection, and private student loans.

The CFPB writes rules that cover consumer financial products and services under the federal consumer financial laws. Since opening its doors in July 2011, the CFPB has put in place new, common-sense mortgage rules to protect consumers against the problems that led to and prolonged the housing crisis. In addition to new protections for international money transfers and for credit cards, the CFPB has also crafted new rules to supervise larger nonbank debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, student loan servicers, international money transfer providers, and auto finance companies for the first time at the federal level. The CFPB is now working to focus on rules that root out deception, debt traps, and dead ends across markets, and to develop more opportunities for consumers to obtain and sustain improved financial capability.

We also supervise certain bank and nonbank consumer financial institutions for compliance with consumer financial protection laws and rules and enforce the law when there are violations. The CFPB has pursued enforcement actions against financial institutions that violate the law and has secured more than $11 billion in refunds or relief to more than 25 million eligible consumers.

The goal is a financial marketplace where costs and risks are clear, and where no consumer is harmed by unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices.

Educating and Empowering Consumers

The Dodd-Frank Act charged the CFPB with working to improve the financial literacy of consumers across the country to help them make sound financial decisions. We work to develop and provide consumers with tools and support for skill building to help them make decisions about financial choices and products, to plan for goals they set for themselves, and to act on those plans.

The CFPB provides interactive tools to help consumers make important life decisions. The Paying for College tool enables students and their families to compare financial aid packages from different schools. This interactive comparison tool allows students and their families to learn how much the monthly student loan payment will be if a particular school is chosen, essentially personalizing the selection process to incorporate each school’s financial aid offer. The Repay Student Debt aspect of the tool allows consumers struggling with student loan payments to know what repayment options are available to them.

Additional life-stage tools include Owning a Home, which assists consumers with buying and financing their home, including learning what to expect, what questions to ask, and where to find tools and resources for decision making. The Planning for Retirement tool helps consumers think through when to claim their Social Security benefits, which is the only guaranteed monthly income for 69 percent of consumers over 65 years of age.

On Ask CFPB, consumers can access unbiased answers to commonly asked questions about financial products ranging from credit cards to mortgages to student loans.

Reaching More Consumers

We understand that we cannot achieve our mission alone and that, by working with organizations, frontline staff, and volunteers, we can reach and serve more consumers across America. We have established, and will continue to establish, strategic collaborations to bring financial education and empowerment tools and resources to communities of all sizes.

We work with intermediary agencies and organizations to reach a given consumer at the right moment in his or her financial life—the moment he or she is most receptive to seeking out and acting on assistance. Through our Libraries Project, the CFPB works to help libraries across America serve as a go-to source for financial education by training librarians and providing online resources, worksheets, guides, and other information to help consumers with financial decisions. By helping librarians build the expertise to help consumers research their financial questions, we are empowering communities across the country to provide their residents with access to basic financial education and skills that can make a difference in their financial lives. To date, there are more than 470 library systems with 2,500 library branches that have participated in this initiative. For more information about this and other financial education resources, visit our Financial Education Exchange.

The CFPB has forged relationships with social service providers, financial educators, and community-based organizations—including legal aid organizations—to better reach the more than 100 million low- to moderate-income consumers and to provide them with information when they need it most. We do this by working with public- and private-sector organizations to integrate financial skill-building programs into their existing programs. We also identify policy changes that increase this population’s access to appropriate, high-quality products and services.

We are helping these entities address consumers’ financial challenges through integrating specific and actionable financial empowerment concepts and tools into their programs. The CFPB developed Your Money, Your Goals, a user-friendly, plain-language toolkit and training initiative in English and Spanish, which is designed to assist intermediaries to engage in money conversations with their clients and help their clients identify and get help with financial issues, such as accessing credit reports and managing cash-flow budgets. Since the initiative’s launch in July 2014, the toolkit and training have equipped more than 6,500 front-line staff and volunteers to better engage with consumers.

The CFPB also focuses on the unique needs of special populations, such as servicemembers, older Americans, students, and low-income and economically vulnerable consumers.

Our Office for Older Americans works to prevent elder financial exploitation and fraud, which cost older Americans an estimated $2.9 billion in 2010 alone. The CFPB regularly issues advisories to alert consumers about scams and fraud and provides resources and guides to help aging Americans. To help prevent financial exploitation, Money Smart for Older Adults provides resources and instructor-led training to raise awareness among older adults, their caregivers, and others on how to identify and avoid scams and other elder financial abuse. This product was prepared with the FDIC and is part of its Money Smart program. For the millions of Americans serving as financial caregivers and managing money or property for a loved one who is unable to pay bills or make financial decisions, we have a series of easy-to-understand Managing Someone Else’s Money guides. These guides contain information on the fiduciary’s responsibilities and tips on how to spot financial exploitation and avoid fraud.

Through our Office of Servicemember Affairs, we are helping servicemembers, veterans, and their families handle financial challenges through financial education, monitoring of complaints submitted by consumers to the CFPB, and coordinating with other federal and state agencies on military consumer protection measures. One of its initiatives is an ongoing series of virtual Military Financial Educator Forums on consumer financial topics for service providers who deliver financial, educational, or legal counseling to servicemembers and their families on military installations worldwide. More information can be found on consumerfinance.gov or on the social media channels Facebook and Twitter.

Building on the Momentum

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the CFPB has worked to reach consumers, to answer their financial questions, and to help them prepare for decisions that will affect their financial future. In an increasingly complex financial market, however, consumers often feel overwhelmed by financial decisions and do not know where to turn for help.

The CFPB welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with the legal community, including through pro bono programs and channels, to help financial empowerment and education resources reach consumers, and to help community service organizations integrate financial-capability building into their service offerings. We have several resources available that can support the work attorneys are doing to help consumers to take control of their financial lives, including:

Many CFPB trainings take place via webinar, and the tools and resources are available online or can be ordered in print through the GPO website. To learn more about the CFPB and our financial education and empowerment resources, e-mail us at empowerment@cfpb.gov.

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