Business & Tech

CONSUMER ALERT

Make your views heard on proposed changes to consumer protection agency

Some Republican lawmakers continue to call on President Donald Trump to fire Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, seen here in April 2016. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg Photo

Some Republican lawmakers want President Trump to fire Richard Cordray, who heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

House Republicans earlier this month passed the Financial CHOICE Act, a bill that — among other things — would radically restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Now the bill heads to the Senate. So is the legislation good or bad for consumers?

If you’re not sure, you have plenty of company — according to a recent survey conducted for CreditCards.com, more than 80 percent of Americans don’t know enough about the bureau to form an opinion about it.

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Here are the basics: Formed in 2011, the CFPB is charged with protecting consumers from unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices by banks, lenders, and other financial services companies. To date, it has mandated $11.8 billion in relief to consumers in the form of penalty payments, debt cancellation, and restitution. Perhaps the bureau’s most notable action was the $100 million fine it levied against Wells Fargo for opening unauthorized accounts in customers’ names.

Opponents of the agency, however, claim it has been given too much power and isn’t subject to nearly enough oversight. They argue the bureau could actually hurt the average consumer by placing burdens on banks and businesses that would then be passed on in the form of higher prices and more limited financial products.

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The Financial CHOICE Act attempts to mitigate these perceived problems. It would make the CFPB’s budget part of the Congressional appropriations process and change the law so the director of the agency can be removed by the president at any time. The bill also would take away the agency’s ability to determine on its own what constitutes “unfair, deceptive, and abusive” practices. Opponents of the bureau say that sweeping definition is keeping banks and lenders from offering innovative products that could help consumers.

But many consumer advocates consider the Republican proposals attempts to help big banks by undermining crucial consumer protections. They say allowing the president to fire the agency director and making the budget dependent on Congress would politicize the agency in a way that could hurt consumers.

And that’s where we are today. It’s time for you to be an engaged consumer — and citizen. Whether you feel you’d be better served if the reins on financial institutions were eased, or you want the consumer bureau to crack down even more on misconduct, let your elected representatives in Washington know before the bill comes to a vote.

Have a consumer question or complaint? Reach Sarah Shemkus at seshemkus@gmail.com.
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