Personal Finance

Credit complaints to federal consumer agency have spiked during coronavirus pandemic

Key Points
  • Grievances from March through June are up 50% from the same time last year, a report shows.
  • The biggest jump, 86%, was in the category of credit reporting, credit repair services or other personal consumer reports.
Rob Daly | OJO Images | Getty Images

Households aren't too happy with the U.S. consumer financial ecosystem these days, a report suggests.

Complaints made to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were up 50% from March through June this year compared with the same time period in 2019, according to research from consumer advocacy organization U.S. PIRG. The group analyzed the consumer bureau's public database of complaints — issues range from credit report mistakes to problems related to debt collection, credit cards or mortgages — which come with requirements for company responses and resolutions.

"Consumers are complaining a lot about their treatment during the pandemic," said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the Federal Consumer Program U.S. PIRG. "If you read the narratives in the database that are public, they tell of financial pain and frustration."

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The report comes as experts worry about people facing a financial cliff at the end of July due to the scheduled end of the extra $600 federal unemployment benefits amid continuing high unemployment. Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Senate are expected to unveil their version of a stimulus bill this week, and it's uncertain at this point exactly what will be included to prop up the economy and help struggling households.

The complaint category with the biggest jump — 86% — related generally to credit reporting or credit repair services.

Just one category showed a drop in complaints: student loans. The decline may be due to the Education Department's pause in required payments for federal student loans through Sept. 30, Mierzwinski said. (The agency's reprieve doesn't apply to private student loans, however. Those lenders may or may not make hardship accommodations.)

Consumer complaints during coronavirus pandemic

Product 2019 2020 Change
Credit card or prepaid card8,67411,75335%
Vehicle loan or lease1,9072,17914%
Payday loan, title loan, or personal loan1,3961,56712%
Checking or savings account7,3297,9358%
Debt collection16,39617,3916%
Student loan2,6141,646-37%

The complaints in the database are published after the company responds to your grievance (confirming a relationship with you) or after 15 days, whichever comes first. 

"The CFPB doesn't become your complaint attorney, but they require companies to respond to you, and they keep track of the response and whether it was timely," Mierzwinski said. "This means someone at the company in your complaint has to pay attention." 

The bureau accepts complaints related to a range of financial service providers or products, whether loans, money transfer services, cryptocurrency or credit reports and debt collection. Complaints containing problems that fall outside the bureau's jurisdiction are forwarded to the appropriate agency.

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Although U.S. PIRG worries about what it views as a general rollback in consumer protections at the bureau over the last several years under the Trump administration, Mierzwinski said that entering a complaint in the database is useful if you're hitting roadblocks in resolving an issue.

"I absolutely think you should file a complaint with the [bureau] if you're getting the runaround from a bank or harassment from a company," Mierzwinski said. "Once you file a complaint with the CFPB, it gets the company's attention."

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