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

Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Gets Results for Consumers In December | Ed Mierzwinski

It's been a good month for consumers and a bad month for corporate crime, as the CFPB continued to hold financial firms accountable for unfair marketplace practices. Let's hope that in the New Year, banks and other financial companies get the message that cheating their customers is a bad business model.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Target Says 40 million credit, debt cards may have been compromised...

Hackers gained access to as many as 40 million credit and debit cards used by customers of Target during the height of the holiday shopping season, the company reported Thursday, in one of the biggest data breaches in history. [ALSO SEE LINK AT END OF CLIP TO U.S. PIRG NEWS RELEASE WITH CONSUMER TIPS.]

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Groups Offer Consumer Tips After Target Data Breach

We joined other leading groups to issue consumer tips after the big retailer Target had 40 million credit and debit card numbers stolen. Our main message: Don't panic. Don't pay for over-priced credit monitoring. Do check your checking and credit card accounts regularly and get your free credit reports provided by law.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Volcker Rule Finally Out, Will Require Vigilant Enforcement and Tough Judges

Regulators today released the final so-called Volcker rule designed to prevent Wall Street banks from placing the kinds of risky bets that helped magnify the 2008 mortgage market collapse into a spectacular failure of the financial system leading to trillions of dollars in lost retirement income and the loss of millions of jobs and millions of homes. [...] The final rule is stronger than the proposed rule and stronger than the rule that the banks wanted, reflecting the outpouring of support from citizens across the country, in favor of a robust Volcker rule. [...]

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

CFPB Report Confirms 2009 Credit CARD Act Works to Protect Consumers

“Today’s CFPB report on the Credit CARD Act of 2009 confirms that the law has cleaned up the worst tricks and traps that riddled the credit card marketplace. Those traps saddled consumers with unfair penalty fees and high penalty interest rates, ultimately leading to massive and unsustainable credit card debt and even bankruptcies."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

OCC Again Chooses Interests of Banks Over Consumers and States

A broad coalition of more than 250 consumer advocacy and civil rights groups are protesting yesterday’s announcement by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) that it will largely ignore a key mandate of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed by Congress last year in response to the financial scandals that brought on the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Instead, the OCC will continue to give national banks a blank check to violate state rules against unfair and predatory practices.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Two Years After Passing the Credit CARD Act, Congress Steps Up Attacks on Consumer Cop Designed to Enforce It

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 has eliminated numerous credit card tricks and traps without causing skyrocketing interest rates or any of the other horrible side-effects that the banks once warned about.  Now the banks and their Congressional allies are seeking to eliminate the CFPB, the new consumer cop created to enforce the CARD Act and protect consumers from other tricks of the trade, like unfair mortgage and overdraft practices.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Congress Should Reject Attempts to Put "Knife in the Ribs" of CFPB

U.S. PIRG and other members of Americans for Financial Reform are urging the House of Representatives to reject three proposed bills designed to defang and delay the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

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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

Financial follies update: Discover Card pays deceptive marketing penalty | Ed Mierzwinski

Discover Card has paid a $14 million civil penalty to the CFPB and FDIC, plus refunded over $200 million to ripped-off consumers, in the latest case involving useless, junk credit insurance and credit monitoring add-ons that consumers didn't buy, but pay for, to credit card bills. Read more for that and other weekend financial follies.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB hearing today in House, expect more attacks | Ed Mierzwinski

As Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, prepares to testify this morning in the House, committee leaders have released statements showing they're not so much interested in oversight. They;ve already made up their minds that an agency with only one job, protecting consumers, is a bad idea.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

It happened 4 years ago this weekend, and Congress has already forgotten | Ed Mierzwinski

Four years ago, on September 14-15, 2008, the Lehman Brothers investment bank declared bankruptcy while Bank of America acquired another foundering investment bank, Merrill Lynch -- major events that froze the financial markets and led in a few days to a $700 billion bailout of the financial system. Just four years later, some in the Congress have forgotten that real people and the economy are still suffering from the financial collapse, as it steps up Wall Street-backed efforts to prevent regulators from protecting the public.

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