By Catherine New / Huffington Post / June 20, 2012
Dory Hayes’ credit card complaint started with an honest mistake. And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau agreed.
When she bought a new couch at Jennifer Convertibles in April 2011, she financed it by charging $500 on a GE Money Card, which had an annual percentage rate of 0 percent. Next, she set up automatic bill paying, in $50 installments, to take place the second of each month — her bill’s due date — and sat back to relax on her new sofa.
“I had signed up for paperless billing and just never logged in to check the account,” Hayes, 36, of Stamford, Conn., wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
Ten months later, when the couch should have been paid off, she instead received an email indicating the amount she owed exceeded $400. That’s when she discovered her costly mistake: Hayes’ electronic payment needed 24 hours to clear, which meant that she had been paying a day late for nearly a year, accruing a $25 late fees each time, plus interest. A representative from the card company told her would waive two late fees, but only two.
“I felt like it should not cost me so much for an honest mistake,” Hayes said.
In May, Hayes took her complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the nation’s biggest financial watchdog, and submitted her grievance by email. The next day she received a call from GE Money Card. Two days later, the company told her her issue was resolved, and her $400-plus credit card bill, composed only of fees, had been set to zero. Case closed.
Hayes is not the only one who has been helped. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has resolved 4 out of every 5 complaints it has received since opening its doors nearly a year ago, according to the bureau.
On Tuesday, the bureau gave the public access to its credit card complaint database, which classifies consumer complaints by kind and the financial companies’ type of response; it also indicates which companies have been complained about.
The bureau has announced that by the end of the year it will open to the public other complaint databases, including those for student loans and mortgages.
What’s the No. 1 complaint from consumers about credit cards? Billing disputes, such the one Hayes wrote about, the public database revealed.
“It speaks to issue that consumers must read billing statements or you may be caught behind the eight ball and there may be something that could go unchallenged,” said Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. Cards issuers vary in the their timing of payment processing, and that information tends to be buried deep in the company’s statement of the terms and conditions.
While the new database only shows complaints from June 1, 2012 — a total of 171 — the majority of card companies represented are those granted by the biggest card issuers, including Citibank, Capital One and JPMorgan Chase, as well as GE Capital Retail, which offers the GE Money Card.
Since July 21, 2011, when the bureau opened, it has received more than 45,000 complaints about all kinds of consumer financial services, including credit cards, mortgages, student loans and auto loans. About 37,000 of those have been routed to financial institutions for review, the bureau said, as The New York Times reported.
While consumer groups have largely praised the new database, the banking industry charged that some complaints do not accurately describe a situation and they unfairly smear the biggest card issuers.
Richard Hunt, the president of lobbying group Consumers Banking Association, has argued that naming the credit card issuers before the complaints are fact checked can hurt banks’ reputations.
But Hayes’ complaint experience with the bureau, which she called “great,” signals a new era has begun for consumer rights. “I am still so happy I had a place to go,” she said.