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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Complaints Tallied For 2011

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Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has received about 12,000 complaints over the past six months from consumers who had problems with their credit cards and mortgages, according to the CFPB's semi-annual report to Congress.

In the half year ending Dec. 31, 2011, the agency received 9,307 credit card complaints and 2,326 mortgage complaints through its website, by phone, and through referrals from other federal regulators, according to the report released Tuesday.

What are people upset about?

There is no clear winning category among credit card complaints. "Billing disputes" edged out "Identity theft/fraud/embezzlement," but collectively accounted for about a quarter of all complaints.

More than half of all consumers who contacted the CFPB with a complaint about mortgages reported issues over making payments, or problems they experienced when they were unable to pay, such as related to loan modification or foreclosure.

Established under the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law and launched last July, the CFPB has sought input from consumers on how it should carry out its mission, soliciting specific complaints regarding credit cards and mortgages. The number of complaints received so far should help the agency better understand consumer beefs. But, it represents just a small fraction of the universe of possible complaints the bureau could potentially receive, given the current foreclosure crisis and the more than 500 million outstanding credit card bills, according to the report.

"The consumer response system is still in its early stages," said Jennifer Howard, a CFPB spokeswoman. "We are using our website and public events to publicize the system and coordinating with other agencies to ensure consumers know CFPB is here to help. We expect that volume will pick up as more consumers learn about it."

The CFPB passed along about 75 percent of all the complaints it received to the company involved in the dispute. Slightly more than half -- 55 percent -- of those complaints were reported as "closed with relief," meaning the company resolved whatever issue it was that led to the complaint. About 30 percent were closed without relief -- were not resolved -- and the rest are pending, according to the bureau.

The bureau also provided some information in the report about how consumers felt about those actions. About 40 percent of consumers "did not dispute" the action the company took in response, while 13 percent of consumers did dispute the responses. Nearly half of all customers have not yet replied to the CFPB to tell the agency what they think about the response.

What is missing from the report is any indication that the agency was anything but a conduit for these complaints, though the agency previously said in a press release about credit card complaints that they "provide potential insights into issues within the credit card marketplace that may inform the CFPB across its full range of activities: supervision, enforcement, rulemaking, research, and consumer education."

It is also quite likely that a bank or a credit card company would take a complaint forwarded along by its regulator more seriously than one that came through directly from a consumer.

The agency's most significant public outreach thus far has been a year-long request for feedback on efforts to both make mortgage documents more transparent and also to make it easier for the housing industry to comply with various federal laws. Over seven rounds of testing, the CFPB received about 27,000 individual comments on its website providing feedback on the prototype mortgage forms. Roughly half of these comments were provided by consumers and half by industry representatives, the bureau said.

Also on Tuesday, a planned Republican boycott of new director Richard Cordray's appearance at a Senate hearing to discuss the report fizzled, as only half the GOP members skipped out in protest of his recess appointment by President Barack Obama.

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