Reining in Wall Street

STANDING UP AGAINST THE BIG BANKS AND WALL STREET—For more than 20 years, Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski has helped us stand up against big banks and credit card companies.

A PRO-CONSUMER FISCAL FUTURE

Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their financial institutions are ripping them off, or using tricks and schemes to squeeze money out of them.

Yet for years, federal bank regulators ignored numerous warnings of increasingly predatory mortgage practices, credit card tricks, and unfair overdraft policies used by the big Wall Street banks. They also ignored warnings of risky securities being packaged and sold to investors. In the wake of the resulting financial crisis, U.S. PIRG fought for and successfully urged passage of a strong 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Since winning federal Wall Street reform, we've worked to defend those reforms from the industry's attempts to defang, defund or delay them. In particular, since it began work in July 2011, we've had to defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the first federal financial agency with just one job: protecting consumers. However, it took another two-year fight against the opponents of the CFPB to convince the Senate to confirm Bureau's director, Richard Cordray, to a full five-year term. The Senate finally confirmed Cordray in July 2012, eliminating any uncertainty over the CFPB's authority over credit bureaus, payday lenders and other non-bank firms.

The CFPB - in many ways the centerpiece of the broader 2010 Wall Street reforms - has already succeeded in protecting consumers, from students and soldiers to seniors and homeowners. Among the CFPB's successes have been its new regulation of the mortgage markets, its creation of a publicly-available consumer complaint database, and its investigations of the big credit bureaus. The CFPB has also made banks and credit card companies return nearly half a billion dollars to consumers who were treated unfairly.

Yet consumers, taxpayers and investors still face big risks in the financial marketplace. Big banks are allowed to make risky bets with our money, many financial institutions are still finding ways to unfairly squeeze money out of their customers, and financial industry practices still pose risks to the financial system. So in addition to defending the CFPB, we are working to protect investors, taxpayers and the financial system itself:

  • We're supporting a requirement called the Volcker Rule which would prevent big banks from using their “own” money, which includes depositor funds, to place risky bets.
  • We're urging the Commodity Futures Trading Commission not to allow the big banks to hide their reckless financial bets offshore the way that AIG and JP Morgan's London Whale did.
  • We're backing Securities and Exchange Commission rules to require that all public companies, including banks, publish the ratio of compensation between their CEO and their middle-level employees.

In short, we're building a financial regulatory system that guarantees that consumers and taxpayers are protected from predatory practices. And we're fighting to give consumers a seat at the table when it comes to oversight of the nation's financial system.

Issue updates

Media Hit | Financial Reform

JPMorgan Chase is sued in 2008 Bear Stearns mortgage case

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB, FDIC, Fed and OCC slap AmEx Credit Card for numerous violations | Ed Mierzwinski

(UPDATED) Four federal financial regulators have announced an order for at least $85 million in restitution and $27.5 million in penalties alleging a variety of violations of equal credit opportunity, debt collection and credit reporting laws by the American Express credit card. From the CFPB: "at every stage of the consumer experience, from marketing to enrollment to payment to debt collection, American Express violated consumer protection laws."

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Latest financial follies: "Bizarre" FHFA raising mortgage costs; CNBC Closing Bell overdraft debate | Ed Mierzwinski

Latest follies: Professor Alan White explains the latest antics of the "bizarre" Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)--its effort to punish states with successful foreclosure mediation programs by raising their mortgage costs. Meanwhile, I join Maria Bartiromo on CNBC's Closing Bell where I blame irresponsible bankers for an increase in overdraft fees.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Supposed settlement between merchants and credit card networks lurching toward collapse | Ed Mierzwinski

In July, news broke that merchants and the Visa and Mastercard payment networks had agreed to settle charges that "interchange" fees that the networks charged the merchants to accept credit and debit cards were unfair. Now, all the merchant associations involved have withdrawn from the deal because it wouldn't punish the banks, wouldn't reduce the fees that result in higher consumer prices and would bind merchants, including those not yet born, from any future lawsuits for unfair payment network practices.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB says 1 in 5 credit scores sold to consumers have "meaningful" differences from scores lenders use | Ed Mierzwinski

The CFPB has confirmed what consumer advocates have been saying all along. Credit scores heavily marketed to consumers aren't the same as those used by lenders; at least 1 in 5 consumer scores have "meaningful" differences and that "score discrepancies may generate consumer harm." That's why we call them FAKO scores.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Today, CFPB to announce overdraft fee investigation, unveil "penalty box" disclosure, possibly end $39 lattes. | Ed Mierzwinski

At a news conference in NYC today, Director Richard Cordray of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will announce a major investigation of bank overdraft fee practices and propose a model "penalty box" disclosure to appear on bank statements. The investigation could end the $39 latte-- $4 bucks for the coffee, $35 for the debit card overdraft fee.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Consumer news update, some stories I've been following | Ed Mierzwinski

Just a summary of some of what I think are the important consumer news stories of the last week or so, in case you missed any of them.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

We Tell the Financial Regulators: Don’t Let Big Banks Make Taxpayer-Backed Bets | Ed Mierzwinski

Last night, U.S. PIRG and the AFL-CIO joined Americans for Financial Reform in a detailed comment letter urging issuance of a strong Volcker rule. It's a 72-page pdf comment letter that basically comes down to this: We tell the financial regulators: don’t let big banks make taxpayer-backed bets.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB To Visit NYC and More Consumer News of the Week, In Case You Missed It | Ed Mierzwinski

Just a few of the interesting consumer stories I am following this week: CFPB heads to New York to talk about checking accounts (Feb. 22)... Meanwhile, Citibank charged some consumers twice to pay bills only once (NYTimes)...Consumer groups call for a real recall of Bumbo baby seat (Boston Globe)...Mortgage settlement is a good first step (PIRG statement)...House opponents ratchet up attacks on new CFPB (WashPost)...Over-priced "Who will pay your credit card if you die, get sick or get laid off?" products pay out only 21 cents on the dollar (American Banker)...More on the CFPB's latest semi-annual report (St. Louis American)...PIRG, Demos document rise of the Super-PACS (MS-NBC)...And finally, "Enron" -- a musical theater production about corporate crime, re-opens in Washington State (The Olympian).

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB's Cordray to Highlight Achievements/Goals Today In Senate | Ed Mierzwinski

The Senate Banking Committee will hold an oversight hearing today at 10 am (live video) on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's semi-annual report to Congress. The witness will be CFPB director Rich Cordray, who received a PIRG-backed recess appointment from the President on January 4th. Expect some CFPB opponents on the committee to boycott; others to show up.

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