CFPB pins the tail of complaints squarely on credit reporting agencies

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The agency wants people to complain because it helps it prevent issues from getting worse

How bad do consumers think credit reporting agencies are? Plenty bad. According to a new analysis by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, complaints to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about credit reporting problems nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022.

At the top of this dubious list: the so-called “Big 3” credit bureaus -- TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. That trio received more complaints than any other financial firms in 2022 – 604,221 out of 3,420,113 total complaints.

Credit reporting agencies stink up the place when it comes to reviews at ConsumerAffairs, too. Equifax had the most reviews over the last year and 98.1% of those were 1-star. TransUnion and Experian basically tied with the second most reviews with 93.3% of TransUnion’s reviews being 1-star and 86.9% of Experian reviews earning the lowest rating.

"I’ve studied credit reporting complaints for over 30 years, yet I cannot comprehend how little the credit bureaus’ poor treatment of consumers has changed,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director for federal consumer programs at U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “When Americans describe a system rigged against them in the stories they file into the CFPB database, it’s unfortunately not surprising -- I’ve seen it all before.”

Many people are griping about the same issues

Among the key findings of PIRG’s “Big Credit Bureaus, Record Complaints: a look at increases in CFPB consumer complaints 2021-2022” report is that many consumers have the same gripes --  student loans, checking and savings accounts, and credit card or prepaid card complaints.

New financial technologies cracked the Top Ten for the first time, with consumers up in arms about frauds and scams and virtual currency like Bitcoin, as well as standard services like credit repair and money transfer categories.

On a per-capita basis, consumers in Georgia, Delaware, Florida, the District of Columbia and Alabama filed the most complaints.

How can consumers make use of the CFPB’s database?

ConsumerAffairs has been using the agency’s database for about a year and it’s been very helpful in giving us insights into problems such as with Buy Now Pay Later.

We reached out to the CFPB to find out how a consumer can make the best use of the database and one of the beauties of the system is that someone can look at the complaints of a certain company and see how that company responded.

For example, one consumer filed a complaint against TD Bank, saying they asked the bank to close a checking account but the account stayed open, accruing fees. The record shows the bank responded in a “timely fashion” and the complaint was “closed with monetary relief.”

The agency said that in conversations with stakeholders, the database is typically best for gaining insights into problems people are experiencing in the marketplace.

To aid consumers, PIRG is also releasing a short video showing how easy it is to use the database.

The CFPB encourages consumers to file complaints

The CFPB is required by law to monitor consumer complaints. While more is not necessarily the merrier, anytime a consumer files a complaint, it provides the CFPB with important information about the types of challenges consumers are experiencing with financial products and services and how companies are responding to consumers’ concerns. 

The agency didn’t specifically name situations where complaints led to it filing an action against a specific company, but it’s possible that its investigation against Venmo and its concerns over “negative option” subscription programs likely were connected to consumer complaints.

"For the CFPB to do its only job, protecting consumers, as effectively as possible, it’s important to hear directly from people what’s going wrong,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Campaign Director Mike Litt. “The complaints in this database act like an alarm system. When the CFPB reads them, it’s alerted to problems, who the culprits are, and what actions it needs to take.”

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