CFPB sees 54% jump in consumer complaints in 2020

Dive Brief:

Complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) jumped nearly 54% in 2020 — to roughly 542,300 from 352,400 in 2019, the agency said Wednesday in an annual report to Congress.
More than 58% of the complaints pertained to credit and consumer reporting. Debt collection accounted for 15% of complaints submitted on the CFPB’s portal in 2020. Credit card complaints, checking or savings issues, and mortgage complaints comprise 7%, 6%, and 5%, respectively, the bureau said.
The CFPB typically passes a sizable portion of consumer complaints — 81% in 2019 — to the companies to which they pertain. Companies generally must respond within 15 days. The complaints also help the bureau determine where — and on which companies — to focus supervision and enforcement actions.

Dive Insight:

The complaint data comes little more than a month after CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio called out companies that have been slow to address consumers’ concerns. Specifically, he directed the bureau’s consumer response unit to draft a report identifying companies that show a disparity between their responses — and response timelines — to consumers of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“Elevating the voices of those consumers who are suffering due to the pandemic and from racial inequity is the most important way to ensure that the CFPB is doing the best we can for those who need our help the most at this moment in history,” Mejia wrote in a February blog post. “The Bureau must transition from treating consumer input as mere anecdotes or stories to a world in which the experience of our neighbors, our families, and our communities serve as crucial data that drives our policymaking.”

The CFPB said Wednesday it plans to issue a separate report this year regarding complaints submitted to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the nation’s three largest credit bureaus.

Although the companies have “typically provided substantive and comparatively detailed responses to the majority of complaints in prior years … this year, the CFPB observed that [they] stopped providing complete and accurate responses in many of these complaints,” the CFPB said.

Complaints pertaining to the credit bureaus generally account for a sizable portion of the overall number the portal receives. However, last year’s 58% share far surpasses the 44% aimed at the credit bureaus in 2019.

Francis Creighton, CEO of the trade group the Consumer Data Industry Association told American Banker in an emailed statement that “predatory” credit-repair companies inflated the number of complaints against credit bureaus.

“They essentially spam the [CFPB’s] complaint portal, making it difficult to help consumers with legitimate problems,” Creighton wrote.

The CFPB said consumers submitted roughly 32,100 complaints in 2020 that mentioned coronavirus or related keywords.

Florida-based consumers submitted more complaints per capita than those in any other state, at a rate of 309 per 100,000 people, the bureau said.

Uejio said in February that complaint volume was at an “all-time high.” Indeed, for perspective, the bureau saw 1.9 million complaints to its public portal from 2011 through at least some portion of 2019. Uejio on Wednesday reiterated his stance on the vital role the portal plays.

“Consumer complaints provide the CFPB with an important real-time window into where consumers encounter problems in the marketplace,” he said in a press release. “The CFPB expects companies to respond to these concerns and that consumers receive responses from companies that address the issues consumers raise in their complaints.”


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