Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Credit card complaints

by Charlie Leocha on July 6, 2012

Few issues confront all travelers more than credit cards. These small bits of embossed plastic are indispensable. They make our lives easier and allow us to travel without great amounts of cash. Of course, there are problems with credit cards, too. Government data provides a glimpse of credit cards with the most reported problems.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its credit card complaint data last month that covered most of the previous year, from July 2011 through May 2012.

For now this information is rather limited on the CFPB website, with a tiny slice of the roughly 17,000 credit-card complaints included. Frankly, I haven’t really figured out how to navigate the website and how to extract information, but it is there.

With a few clicks, you can search the database to see which types of complaints are most common. The two most frequent sources of consumer gripes: billing disputes and interest rates. Complaints can also be sorted by company, though the sample size is currently too small to draw conclusions about specific company practices.

Database wizards far craftier than I at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) dove into the data and blogged about it on the publications blog last week. It lamented the limitations, but there is a lot of promise for a future where credit card companies can be held publicly accountable.

For now, the information provided by the CFPB makes for quick reading. There are 137 credit-card-related complaints, all received by the agency since June 1. New complaints will be added daily once the agency verifies that the company has a business relationship with the person making the complaint.

For now, the database doesn’t include details that would help shed light on the seriousness of the complaints or provide insights into what exactly triggered the disputes or specifics about how it was resolved. A CFPB spokeswoman says the effort is still in its early stages and says the agency is “evaluating what, if any, additional information should be included.”

The main paper published a story about rankings of the credit cards according to WSJ estimates based on CFPB complaint data.

      Capital One — 2,700

 

      Citigroup — 2,380

 

      Bank of America — 1,800

 

      JP Morgan Chase — 1,800

 

    American Express — 870

Capital One led the pack with its complaints. According to the CFPB data results, the company registered more complaints than any other credit card.

Capital One, the subject of 33 of those 137 complaints, came in as the biggest source of credit-card complaints in that data set. The WSJ reported, “For the 10-month period between last July and May 2012, Capital One’s complaints included more than 400 on billing-statement and billing disputes and more than 200 each on collection practices, interest rates and identity-theft concerns.”

As might be expected, credit card companies are not thrilled with complaints being collected and publicized on publicly available government websites, but credit card companies are getting the message loud and clear about problems that are surfacing. Every company involved promised they would work more diligently to help consumers who have problems.

J.P. Morgan said it welcomes feedback from its customers and added that it has taken steps to improve its credit cards. “While we are pleased with the progress we’ve made, we look forward to further improving the service our customers expect and deserve,” the company said.

Bank of America, in a statement, said, “Our objective is to work with our customers to resolve any issues they may have.”

American Express, said “in the vast majority of cases” it is “able to work directly with our customers to resolve any concerns they have.” A Citigroup spokeswoman said the bank has been working to address consumers’ concerns.

This new CFPB asset is in its infancy. The Consumer Travel Alliance is in contact with the CFPB and will be following developments from this new financial watchdog.

In the meantime, choose your credit cards wisely and report any problems. The process is simple and it allows you to help yourself and fellow travelers. Click here or go to the resources section of the Consumer Travel Alliance website and file your complaints.

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  • James Wright

    Isn’t the number of complaints irrelevant without knowing how many cards each bank issued?

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  • DCTA

    Two thoughts – I did expect this column to be related to travel and kept reading, searching for the travel-related info.

    Second thought – so if Capital One has the largest percentage of complaints, does the data reveal what Capital One’s percentage is of all credit cards issued?  Was that left out of the WSJ piece or just out of this piece?  OR was it left out of the report altogether? Then we could really get to what the occurrence of complaint is.

  • Mapsmith

    And to further explain the problems with Capital One, how many of the cards are issued to less than desireable credit scores?.  

    It seems like a lot of the “upper right’ problems on the pie chart are rather strange complaints. 

    “Overlimit fees”, Forebearance and Workout, Deliquent Account, and Payoff problems?   These seem to be problems with Cardholders rather than the Cards themselves.

  • Sononiss

    My Mother-In-Law has paid her Credit Card balance in full every month. As such, Discovery & Wells Fargo actually raised her interest rate (they were not making any money on her). When this is done, the Credit Reporting Bureau considers this as a “degrade” of Credit Worthyness & lowered her Credit Rating from the mid 700′s to 698. When she rrecently applied for a small Home Equity Loan to install Hurricane Windows in her home, the rate offered was higher than expected because her Credit Rating was under 700 (698 actually). This is just one of the amoral & disgusting ploys by Financial Institutions to continue to rape the American public. Far, far more Consumer Protection is required to reign in these crooks.

  • DCTA

     Dad taught me back in the late 70s to always leave a balance of $10-$15 on any “credit card” just for the above reason.  He further explained that if I want to take the route of paying in full every month, then get a “charge card” instead – which would be an American Express, for instance.  (This would be a true Amex card, not an Optima, etc.)

  • Anonymous

    The interest rate on your card has no bearing on your credit score – in fact, if you pull a copy of your credit report, you’ll see no reference to the interest rate charged anywhere.  The primary driver is your “debt to credit limit” ratio.  If I had to guess, one of her issuers reduced your mother-in-law’s credit limit in addition to jacking up the interest rate, which would dock her credit score. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve had the opposite experience with Capital One – which is to say, I’ve been happy with them.  They don’t charge bogus foreign transaction fees, and were helpful in a dispute I had with a foreign merchant (which, I found out later, they had no obligation to help with since it was a purchase outside the U.S.). 

    Not trying to be a cheerleader for Capital One, but this article shows the problem with using raw statistics; without context, they have no meaning.  If they issue more cards than anyone else, of course the number of complaints is going to be highest.  As DCTA notes, we need to see the RATE of complaints to make judgments on who’s bad/not as bad. 

  • http://astro.dur.ac.uk/~gelbord/ Jonathan_G

    My thought exactly.  Without knowing how many cards each bank issues, these numbers are useless.  If Capital One receives 16% of the complaints but issues 25% of all credit cards, then they’d be doing quite well.

    It’s like pointing at the 8 career home runs hit by Bryce Harper (a power-hitting 19-year-old rookie who has only been in the major leagues for part of this year) and the 33 career home runs hit by Jose Molina (a light-hitting catch who’s been playing in the majors for parts of 12 years) and claiming that Jose Molina is the better home run hitter.

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