In July 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal government agency, began collecting consumer complaints about credit cards. Since then, it has expanded to collecting complaints about mortgages, bank accounts, student loans, consumer loans, credit reporting, money transfers, and debt collection. If you have a complaint about one of these financial services, here's how to determine if your inquiry is worth submitting to the CFPB and the process for doing this.

Key Takeaways

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal government agency, collects consumer complaints about credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, student loans, consumer loans, credit reporting, money transfers, and debt collection.
  • If you’re having problems with a financial institution, your first step should be to contact the institution directly.
  • If your issue is not resolved in this way, it is important to submit a complaint to the CFPB because the more complaints the CFPB receives about the same issue or the same financial institution, the more likely a large problem exists that regulation might help resolve.

When Should You Submit a Complaint to the CFPB?

If you’re having problems with a financial institution, your first step should be to contact the institution directly. Start with a simple email, online chat, or a phone call to customer service. If you’re complaining by phone, you may find it helpful to write yourself a script so you don’t forget anything important you want to say.

You should give the company an opportunity to address your complaint. Achieving resolution is often a matter of contacting the right person. If your first email or call doesn’t accomplish anything, several additional phone calls in which you ask to speak to a manager may eventually put you in touch with someone who has the authority and competence to resolve your complaint.

If those methods fail, consider filing your complaint with the CFPB.

The Importance of Submitting Complaints

The CFPB states that its purpose in collecting and managing consumers’ complaints about financial services is to learn more about “business practices that may pose risks to consumers.” In addition, the agency states, “Complaints help with our work to supervise companies, enforce federal consumer financial laws, and write better rules and regulations.”

The more complaints the CFPB receives about the same issue or the same financial institution, the more likely a large problem exists that regulation might help resolve. The complaints that consumers submit to the CFPB become part of a public database that economists and other researchers can use to identify patterns. These databases can be used to suggest improvements in the way financial institutions interact with consumers and in the way they are regulated. And you don’t need to worry about confidentiality–the database doesn’t contain any personally identifiable information.

Perry says CFPB regulators should address financial institutions that have systemic issues or predatory behavior. “Without appropriate safeguards, this behavior could affect many consumers and the financial institution should be taken to task,” he says.

How to Submit Your Complaint

If you’ve determined that submitting a complaint to the CFPB is necessary, it’s easy to do so. Once you visit the CFPB's website, the first step is to choose a category for your complaint: bank account or service, credit card, credit reporting, debt collection, money transfer, mortgage, student loan, or vehicle, or consumer loan.

The exact steps for submitting your complaint depends on the service you are complaining about. For example, if your complaint is related to a credit card, on page one you’ll be asked to submit a short description of the issue and choose the category to which your complaint applies from the drop-down box. It's optional to submit some details, including how much money you lost, the date of your loss, and whether you have taken action to resolve the issue, such as contacting the company directly or filing a legal action. On page two, you will write a short paragraph describing what you think would be a fair resolution to the problem. Page three requires you to submit your full name, mailing address, and email address. Page four asks for the name on your account, your credit card number, and the name of the company you’re complaining about. It also gives you the opportunity to attach any documents that support your complaint, such as proof of payment. On page five, you'll review your information, certify that it is accurate, and finally, submit your complaint.

The CFPB will forward your complaint to the company you named and ask them to respond. If the CFPB thinks another government agency is better equipped to handle your complaint, it will forward it to that agency. Next, the company will review your complaint and communicate with you about it if necessary. It will then report back to the CFPB on what its next steps will be. The CFPB will notify you about that response and let you tell the CFPB whether you’re satisfied with the response after you review it. If not, you have 30 days to dispute the company’s response. Throughout the process, you’ll be able to check the status of your complaint by logging on to the CFPB’s website or calling its toll-free number.

You can file a complaint on behalf of yourself or someone else. If you’re not comfortable using the website, you can also submit a complaint by email, phone, fax, or mail.

Not all complaints need to be submitted to the CFPB. “Most complaints can be handled through the financial institution and most are rectified or clarified by the financial institution,” Perry says. But when the employees you interact with at your bank, credit card company, mortgage lender or other financial institution seem incapable of or unwilling to resolve your complaint, the CFPB’s process may help you get a better result.

CFPB Consumer Response Contact Information

Online: 

Telephone:

  • Toll-Free Number: (855) 411-CFPB (2372)
  • Español: (855) 411-CFPB (2372)
  • TTY/TDD: (855) 729-CFPB (2372)
  • Fax Number: (855) 237-2392

Hours of Operation:

8 am-8 pm EST

Mail:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

PO Box 4503

Iowa City, Iowa 52244