Bloomberg News

Consumer Agency Aims to Publish Credit-Card Complaint Data

December 02, 2011

(Updates with request for public comment in sixth paragraph.)

Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to publish data on complaints it has begun collecting from consumers about billing, fraud and other issues involving credit cards.

Under the proposal released today, the bureau wouldn’t release personal information about the cardholder. It would publish data on the date and type of complaint, the Zip code of the consumer and the name of the card issuer. The agency also would publish “periodic reports about trends and patterns in complaint data,” according to the proposal.

“The CFPB anticipates that if it disclosed credit-card complaint data, those who would be most likely to mine the data for trends and patterns and to publish their conclusions would be academics and groups dedicated to empowering consumers in making well-informed decisions,” the agency wrote in the proposal.

The publication could affect card issuers including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Capital One Financial Corp., which worked with the new agency beginning early this year to set up the consumer response system.

Even before the agency began taking complaints about credit cards on July 21, industry groups including the American Bankers Association were pushing to keep the results confidential, arguing that publication would allow frivolous complaints to damage reputable brands. Consumer groups argued that many firms, such as Amazon.com Inc., publish unedited consumer complaints without harm.

Public Comment

The agency is requesting public comment on its plans for the data by Jan. 30, according to the proposal.

“When consumers contact us, we get a snapshot of how the consumer finance markets are working,” Raj Date, the adviser to the Treasury secretary who is running the bureau in the absence of a permanent director, said in an e-mailed statement. “And we are learning that there is a lot of consumer confusion about credit-card terms.”

The bureau said in an e-mailed statement that it plans to begin taking complaints on home-loan products “on or about Dec. 1.” It is aiming to include other bank depository products, such as checking accounts and safe deposit boxes, by March, according to an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan isn’t public.

The system will be ready for “a majority of consumer financial product complaints and inquiries” by the end of 2012, according to the statement.

Resolution

Consumers submitted 5,074 credit-card complaints to the bureau between July 21 and Oct. 21, according to a report the agency released today. Of those, 83.8 percent were forwarded to the card issuer, which reported a “full or partial resolution” in 74 percent of the cases. Also, 71 percent of consumers did not dispute the issuers’ resolution of the case.

The biggest categories of complaints were about interest rates, billing disputes and identity theft or other forms of alleged fraud.

Kenneth Clayton, chief counsel to the ABA, said that with 383 million credit card accounts in the United States, less than one-tenth of one percent have complained to the bureau.

“This is a strong record, and one the industry will work to build upon,” Clayton said in an e-mailed statement.

Ruth Susswein, deputy director for national priorities at the advocacy group Consumer Action, said the published data would aid users of credit cards and other financial services.

“We hope that the CFPB will provide details of individuals’ complaints so that consumers can use the first-hand experiences to make wise pre-purchase choices,” Susswein said in an e-mail. “Companies with excellent customer service practices should have nothing to fear.”

--Editors: Lawrence Roberts, Gregory Mott

To contact the reporter on this story: Carter Dougherty in Washington at cdougherty6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lawrence Roberts at lroberts13@bloomberg.net.


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