By James Limbach
ConsumerAffairs.com

September 11, 2009
A year after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy froze credit markets and sent the stock market into a nosedive, consumers overwhelmingly want government action to increase consumer protections for financial products and services, according to a new national poll released by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

In a country where skepticism about the role of government is high, 57 percent of those polled support the creation of a new federal agency to protect consumers who purchase banking and other financial products and services.

Those most likely to be adversely affected by many unfair and deceptive financial practices -- adults under 35 blacks, Hispanics and low-income individuals -- expressed the strongest support for a new consumer protection agency.

"Americans are fed up with the tricks and traps that they confront daily as they purchase and use financial products and services," said Travis Plunkett, CFA's Legislative Director. "To add insult to injury, the same firms that benefited from a taxpayer bailout are hitting consumers with exorbitant and unjustified charges. Americans want a cop on the beat to rein in these abuses, which helped trigger the current economic crisis and have worsened the plight of those hardest hit by the recession."

President Obama proposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency in response to the perceived failure of regulators to rein in lending that helped bring down the economy.

Chairman Barney Frank of the House Financial Services Committee and Chairman Christopher Dodd of the House Banking Committee have both strongly endorsed the agency. The House Financial Services Committee is scheduled to take up the legislation to establish the new agency in the next few weeks.

Poll results

The poll of 1018 people conducted by Caravan Opinion Research Corporation for CFA asked specifically about mortgage lending, bank practices, and credit cards. The survey showed that, in the wake of the mortgage meltdown, Americans overwhelmingly support disclosure requirements on mortgage documents and limits on fees and certain practices:

• 89 percent support (82 percent strongly support) requiring banks to disclose all mortgage fees upfront, clearly and conspicuously.

• 67 percent support (58 percent strongly support) prohibiting banks from charging substantial penalties to borrowers who pay off mortgages early.

• 61 percent support (45 percent strongly support) prohibiting mortgage brokers from collecting additional fees from banks for persuading borrowers to purchase higher-rate mortgages.

• 61 percent support (48 percent strongly support) prohibiting mortgage brokers and banks from selling more expensive subprime mortgage loans to borrowers who qualify for less expensive regular mortgage loans.

Bank practices also are of concern to Americans. They support disclosure requirements and limits on overdraft practices.

• 85 percent support (73 percent strongly support) requiring banks to disclose, on the ATM screen, that a withdrawal will overdraw an account.

• 71 percent support (44 percent strongly support) requiring banks to gain the permission of customers before routinely providing loans to cover these overdrafts.

• 70 percent support (53 percent strongly support) requiring banks to pay checks in the order they are received, as opposed to the current practice of allowing banks to routinely pay the largest first, which drains some accounts more quickly and increases bounced check fees.

More regulations

In spite of the recent enactment of credit card protections by Congress, consumers still believe that additional prohibitions on particular credit card practices are necessary:

• 67 percent support (55 percent strongly support) prohibiting credit card companies from extending total lines of credit that exceed a person's annual income.

• 63 percent support (51 percent strongly support) prohibiting credit card companies from increasing the interest rate on one card because of their payment history on another card.