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

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Over the last six months, state PIRG staff conducted inquiries at 250 bank and 116 credit union branches in 17 states and the District of Columbia and reviewed bank fees online in these and 7 other states. They found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits).

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Court rejects First Amendment attack on credit bureau regulation and other financial follies | Ed Mierzwinski

In an important case joined by the government, a U.S. district judge has rejected the latest misguided industry attack on the constitutionality of regulation of credit bureaus. Meanwhile, the CFPB has released its first annual report on credit card deals with colleges. Here's a weekly summary of the latest financial follies.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Supreme Court hears case on textbook prices with implications for all secondary markets (Amazon, eBay) | Ed Mierzwinski

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard an important case concerning whether publishers can restrict owners of books from reselling their used copies, raising massive implications not only for the prices of textbooks but also for the very existence of important secondary markets like Amazon and eBay.  U.S. PIRG joined others in urging the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court's view that consumers lose longstanding rights to resell copies of copyrighted books, if the books were made outside the US.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Washington Post: Can’t fix error in your credit report? Call Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

"A much-cited study by the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups found that almost 79 percent of all credit reports had some type of error."

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Tips for fixing credit report errors yourself (don't ever use a credit repair doctor) | Ed Mierzwinski

Fox Business reporter Kelly Dilworth has a detailed "how-to" called "10 surefire steps to get errors off your credit reports." Don't go to a credit repair doctor, don't read a bunch of wacky advice on self-help websites, don't do any of that, Do what she says.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Consumer fraud summit today will be webcast | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATE: LINK TO C-SPAN WEBCAST ARCHIVE (My PANEL here and entire event here.)

In times of financial calamity, fraudsters come out to take your last dollar. This afternoon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will host a consumer financial fraud summit (agenda) at Georgetown Law School near Union Station bringing together enforcers from the DOJ, FTC, state agencies and consumer groups. I'll be on a panel discussing business opportunity frauds. Other panels will be on elder fraud and tax scams. The event is free and open to the public and will be webcast.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

WH urges privacy rights, industry promises "Do Not Track Sometimes" while states investigate Google | Ed Mierzwinski

As web giants amass more and more information about consumers for behavioral targeting and even "social discrimination" -- which can include differential pricing for the same product or the use of web tracking data and falsely-flagged websites to promote certain brandname drug use -- the White House has called for a privacy bill of rights. Companies and powerful industry lobbies seeking to keep those rights weak have rolled out their own "Do Not Track Sometimes" button. Meanwhile bi-partisan groups of Congressional privacy hawks and, now, state attorneys general have demanded information from Google about its slippery, ever-changing privacy policies and whether Googleis in compliance with settlements it has already agreed to.

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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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