Protecting consumers

Overdraft fees | All those hidden fees |
Private student loan practices | Credit reports | Know before you owe | Prepaid card fraud

 Back to Wall Street Reform Guide

A cornerstone of the new law is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB is the first federal financial regulator with only one job, protecting consumers. It has authority over any firm – bank or non-bank – selling financial products. The new bureau exists to ensure that existing laws are enforced that protect you from deceptive and unfair banking practices. For years, many of those laws have gone unenforced because consumer protection was not a priority for the government. The CFPB is finally making consumer protection a priority.

Because the CFPB is brand new, it is currently asking the public for input into what consumer problems it ought to prioritize. Below are some common consumer problems that OSPIRG Foundation thinks the agency ought to focus on.  Learn more about the CFPB and about CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

Rein in overdraft fees

Problem: The good news is that banks may no longer automatically enroll you in so-called “standard overdraft protection” programs without your consent. Unfortunately, many banks still try to trick consumers into signing up for this overdraft protection without fully explaining the consequences, or the alternative less-expensive products. Worse, without your knowledge, banks can change the order in which your checks and debits are cleared in order to increase the chance that you overdraft (see how the sceme works with this interactive tool).

Solution: Require banks to be more up front with consumers about the potential negative consequences of overdraft protection; and ban check re-ordering schemes.

Learn more: Time Magazine, 1/3/12, We Paid Almost $30 Billion in Overdraft Fees in 2011.

 Back to top

Disclose all those hidden fees

Problem: Banks are required by a 1991 law, the Truth In Savings Act, to disclose all of their fees to anyone who asks.  However, in a recent OSPIRG Foundation study conducted nationally, nearly one quarter of banks surveyed never complied with the law, even when asked several times. Only 38% easily complied; just over half eventually complied. Consumers cannot shop around if fees are hidden. Moreover, it is very difficult for consumers to make an apples-to-apples comparison of fees between different banks or to compare fees on the Internet because the law only applies to paper brochures at the bank.

Solutions: The CFPB should:

  • Enforce the Truth In Saving Act: Routinely audit bank fee disclosure practices from time to time and impose penalties for banks that violate the law.
  • Require banks to disclose their fees and account rules in a easy to read and consistent format (Similar protections were enacted for credit cards in 1988).
  • Extend the law to the Internet.
  • Require Internet fee disclosures to be available in a machine readable format so that online aggregators can automatically publish localized shopping guides for consumers.

Learn more: OSPIRG Foundation, 4/2/11, Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Back to top

Rein in unfair private student loan practices

Problem: Private student loan companies sometimes lead some parents and students into taking out expensive private loans even while they are eligible for less expensive federal loans and grants.

Solution: Before a private lender can make a student loan, the student must have the opportunity for a consultation by her college's financial aid officer. This would help ensure that students and parents maximize all of their less-expensive federal aid before turning to private loans.

Learn more: The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), 12/22/11, Risky Private Student Lending on the Rise Again. See also TICAS' letter to the CFPB on private student loans.

Back to top

Give consumers more control over their credit report

Problem: Even if you've never missed a bill or payment, an error on your credit report — including one caused by identity theft – can mean you're denied for a loan or pay higher interest rates.

There are thousands of banks, yet just three large credit bureaus control nearly all Americans' credit reports. A recent OSPIRG Foundation study found that nearly one-quarter of credit reports had serious errors, including false delinquencies.

Credit bureaus have never been fined for these errors; and have only been fined three times at all. Once, in 2000, the FTC fined all three of them for not having enough people to answer the phones. Twice since then, the credit bureau Experian has been fined for deceiving customers into thinking that its expensive credit monitoring products are actually “free credit reports.”

Solution: The CFPB should use their authority to routinely audit the internal practices of the credit bureaus and require them to improve the accuracy of their records. In addition, the CFPB should mandate that consumers get their credit scores for free, just like federal law allows them to get their credit reports for free. 

Learn more: OSPIRG Foundation, Mistakes Do Happen: A Look At Errors in Consumer Credit Reports

Back to top

Know before you owe

Problem: Credit card, student loan and mortgage contracts are mind-numbingly long and complex. It can be difficult for you to know what you are getting yourself into.

Solution: Credit and loan agreements ought to be simpler  – and help you be crystal clear what you are getting yourself into.

Take action: Tell the CFPB what you think about their ideas for better student loan disclosure, simpler credit card contracts or simpler home mortgage agreements.

Back to top

Protect prepaid and reloadable card users from fraud

 Problem: Many consumers think that all plastic carries the same protections from fraud. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Credit card customers have strong protections against fraud and identity theft. If your credit card is stolen, your maximum liability is $50 no matter when you discover the fraud, and you have numerous avenues to dispute billing errors. Debit cards linked to your checking account have slightly less protections; your liability is just $50 only if you report fraud within 2 days, goes up to $500 if you report within 60 days, and is unlimited if you report beyond that. All other forms of plastic, including reloadable and prepaid cards (including campus cards) have no liability limits.

Solution: Ideally, all forms of plastic money should have the same protections as credit cards. That, unfortunately, will require Congressional approval and is unlikely at the moment.

The next best thing would be to give all prepaid and reloadable cards the same protections from fraud as bank debit cards. Fortunately, the CFPB has the power to do this without Congressional approval. This would not only give prepaid card users liability protection, but would also allow those consumers to receive free balance and transaction information about their accounts in order to monitor unauthorized charges, unwanted fees and errors; have all fees clearly disclosed up front at the point of sale.

Back to top

Issue updates

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

> Keep Reading

Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

> Keep Reading

Statement on P&G’s Consumer Product Fragrance Disclosure Announcement

OSPIRG Foundation applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Protecting Those Who Serve

The men and women who serve in America’s military are also active consumers in America’s financial marketplace, where tricks and traps can cause harm to their finances and their lives. An analysis of more than 44,000 complaints submitted by active duty servicemembers and military veterans to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database finds that mistreatment of servicemembers by financial companies is widespread.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

#KickTheCan: BPA still found in many grocery stores’ canned foods | Dev Gowda

We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

> Keep Reading


News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

PIRG today commended the public release of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would strengthen the ability for Americans to save for retirement by addressing conflicts of interest that arise when brokers and financial advisers give retirement advice. Wall Street will fight the rule hard, because it requires them to put consumers first.

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Report: Mistaken Identity Tops Debt Collection Complaints

Debt collectors trying to collect debt from the wrong person were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by OSPIRG Foundation.

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG Foundation | Financial Reform

Report: Capital One Most-Complained-About Credit Card Company in Oregon

Oregon consumers file more complaints about Capital One than any other credit card company, according to a report released today by OSPIRG Foundation. The report is the fourth in a series of reports that analyze the complaints in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s consumer complaints database.

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Report: In Oregon, Equifax Gets Big Complaints

A new report by OSPIRG Foundation found that the most complained-about credit reporting agency in Oregon is Equifax, and that Oregon ranks 18th nationally in credit report complaints per 100,000 residents.

> Keep Reading


News Release | US PIRG

Beech-Nut will stop selling all single grain rice cereal after Alaska state officials discovered high arsenic levels during routing sampling, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement released Tuesday.

News Release | US PIRG

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approved tough new standards Wednesday to regulate several infant sleep products for the first time.

News Release

Being a consumer is a tough job. Really tough. During National Consumer Protection Week, which runs through March 6, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff is offering a daily dose of tips and advice to help you navigate life’s biggest consumer challenges.

News Release | OSPIRG Foundation

PORTLAND --  OSPIRG Foundation's Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards. 

View AllRSS Feed

Priority Action

Use the form below to share with CFPB Director Richard Cordray what you think their priorities ought to be.

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports OSPIRG Foundation’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

OSPIRG Foundation is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.