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CFPB is Model of Fairness

Charlene Crowell | 5/30/2014, 1:50 p.m.
If there was one key lesson from the recession, it is that financial services need effective regulation.
Charlene Crowell

If there was one key lesson from the recession, it is that financial services need effective regulation. It took billions of lost wealth, largely through millions of foreclosures before lawmakers took decisive actions to ensure that never again would such financial calamity be allowed to happen again.

Nearly three years since the enactment of the historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, the nation’s first-ever full-time, federal consumer watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), was created and began a steady and strong effort to serve the nation. With transparency, fairness and inclusion as its guiding values, CFPB’s new rules for a variety of lending areas are being enacted or considered. Regardless of the product affected, the goal remains the same: rein in unfair, discriminatory and predatory lending practices.

For communities of color, these efforts are particularly important. Black and Brown consumers together have borne the brunt of predatory lending in all of its nefarious forms. Through litigation in cooperation with the Justice Department, banks have been fined and restitution ordered for unnecessary foreclosures and robo-signed foreclosures. More recently, a lender was fined a half million dollars for its failure to observe new mortgage lending rules that took effect in January.

CFPB’s true irony, however, it that multiple, measurable achievements have occurred despite determined and nagging opposition. In America, varying views can be spoken – even acted upon. But there is simply no denying the benefits of a full-time consumer cop on the beat. In a relatively short period of time, CFPB has, in many ways, been a model for ensuring fairness, transparency and effective rules of the road.

The Bureau regularly reports to Congress with appearances before each chamber and twice each calendar year. While CFPB engages panels of advisors that include small business leaders in the development of all proposed rules, the 354,600 consumer complaints it has received as of this month further inform and guide the Bureau’s work.

Even the most cursory view will reveal that:

• CFPB’s enforcement actions have returned over $3.8 billion in refunds and relief to 12.6 million consumers.

• For the first time ever, 30 million consumers, struggling to recover from the recession have protections from abusive debt collection practices that unfairly tarnish their credit records, jeopardize future employment opportunities and add unnecessary costs to access credit.

• CFPB has aggressively engaged stakeholders by visiting 23 metro areas in 21 states for its town halls and field hearings. All events have been opened to the public and included a range of perspectives from various stakeholders. Witnesses have included businesses, academicians, consumers and others commenting on a variety of lending issues like debt collection, auto and payday loans, and abusive overdraft fees.

• New rules now govern the $10 trillion mortgage industry, providing consumers protections at every stage of the process of purchasing and paying for a home.

Public input has also been vital to the Bureau’s decision-making process. Public comments have been an important perspective on all proposed rules. In cooperation with its Office of Service Member Affairs, CFPB has also visited 80 military installations. Multiple advisory boards broaden CFPB’s knowledge and insights to consumer lending.

With these and many other actions to its credit, CFPB is, in fact, actively pursuing its mission: to be the number one consumer cop for America. Real needs are being met and deliberate actions are curtailing what needs to stop.

Of course, we all know that enacting meaningful financial reform is a deliberate, often contentious process; but real progress is being made.

Congress — like the rest of the nation — should be proud.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.