Vital consumer financial protection group in peril

By Scott M. Stringer

In September, a Queens customer was shocked to find an overdraft charge on his bank account. The consumer, a military service member, had set up a linked account to absorb any potential overdraft fees, but the bank had cancelled the protection without ever informing the individual.

Enter the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency charged with protecting consumers from mismanagement or abuse at the hands of financial service companies such as banks, student loan lenders and credit card issuers.

Within 15 days, the CFPB had approached the consumer’s bank, relayed details of the case, and negotiated a resolution that returned money directly to the consumer. This particular complaint is one of the more than 6,500 complaints from Queens, and more than 23,700 New York City based complaints, the CFPB has handled since December 2011.

Despite this track record of success across New York City and the nation, the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress are actively working to strip the CFPB of its current independence and weaken its capacity to stand up for consumers.

Let me be clear: Eliminating or hampering the CFPB represents a bad bargain for consumers everywhere.

As my office has documented, the CFPB has helped New Yorkers across the five boroughs resolve a full spectrum of financial issues, including those involving credit reporting, mortgages, auto loans, banking, student loans, debt collection or prepaid cards.

Between 2011 and January 2016, we found that the number of complaints made by New Yorkers rose 186 percent. In Queens alone, over 1,700 consumers have sought help from the CFPB on their mortgages since the formation of the agency after the great recession. Another 1,241 borough residents got help with their credit scores, while over a thousand more sought advice on consumer loans and debt collection.

Even in the world’s financial capital, many working people struggle to have their concerns heard by large corporations. By amplifying the voices of consumers, the CFPB helps safeguard their money and get a fair shake.

Since its foundation, the CFPB has returned almost $12 billion in direct consumer relief to over 9 million Americans. It’s one of the best financial deals out there.

Alongside its direct consumer advocacy, the CFPB uses tips and trends informed by its complaint database to build out far-reaching and effective consumer protections and regulations. Recently, for instance, the CFPB initiated a lawsuit against the nation’s largest servicer of student loans, Navient, providing tangible help to the population of young New Yorkers with approximately $14 billion in outstanding student loan debt. The CFPB has also issued important rules relating to payday lending, mortgage transparency, and overdrafts.

From stripping financial protections from hardworking retirement savers, to proposing tax reform that would take money out of the pockets of more than 300,000 New Yorkers, the Trump administration has launched an all-out assault on the economic well-being of ordinary Americans.

When the CFPB’s authority and independence is challenged by Congress or the Trump Administration, New Yorkers are left with the prospect of facing unfair, abusive and deceptive financial practices without the help of a critical advocate.

My office will continue to work on the behalf of consumers who deserve fair financial services like affordable checking accounts, impartial investment advice, or new opportunities to save for retirement, as well as fighting to protect the financial security of New York City residents by supporting the CFPB.

Scott M. Stringer

NYC Comptroller

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