Reining in Wall Street Updates

It's called force-placed insurance for a reason. Your mortgage lender buys it for you and you are forced to pay for it, even if it isn't the best deal for you. When lenders purchase a product to "benefit" consumers, they often have numerous incentives to make the more expensive, not less-expensive, choice due to what's called reverse competition. That's a bad deal for you and a bad deal for the economy, but a good deal for the kind of sordid crony capitalism that relies on kickbacks, not better products. Fortunately, the New York Department of Financial Services (both banking and insurance) and the CFPB are both taking a deep dive into the forced-place-insurance mess.

The silver lining in the JP Morgan Chase gambling (they call it "hedging") losses now predicted to reach $3-5 billion, not just $2 billion, is that Congress has slowed misguided efforts to slow or repeal important reforms to derivatives trading. Also, you can "like" or comment on my recent debate position  over at US News and World Report urging the Federal Reserve to use this latest big bank mess to implement a strong Volcker rule against risky bank betting with other people's money.

Last week the nation's largest -- and to date least vulnerable to attack for stupid bank tricks  -- bank, JP Morgan Chase, lost two billion dollars in a very bad derivatives bet. Now Chase's until-now-Teflon-coated CEO Jamie Dimon faces increased scrutiny over his own and his firm's loud and arrogant opposition to the Volcker rule and exchange trading of derivatives -- two Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms not yet implemented due to the obstinacy of bankers like him that might have prevented the loss. The episode also raises the question: Are the big banks too big to manage?

Yesterday, U.S. PIRG joined U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY) and other leading members in front of the U.S. Capitol to introduce the Overdraft Protection Act of 2012. Also this week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau described its proposal to simplify mortgage points and fees. Click read more to find about these and other important financial stories this week.

You can pick your friends and even your bank but you are stuck with the credit bureaus.  Over the last twenty years the power of the big credit bureaus to act as gatekeepers to consumer success in life has grown immensely. Credit reports and credit scores generated from them are used to decide whether consumers can get a job, get car insurance, qualify to open a bank account, rent an apartment, use a debit card and, of course, whether they can obtain and how much they will pay for credit. The Columbus (OH) Dispatch has an excellent four-part series explaining that the credit bureaus make mistakes, lots of them, and ruin peoples' lives. There is hope, however, since the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has new tools to rein in the bureaus.

New York Times is running a bank fees debate, seeks comments

By | Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

Over at the New York Times, you can join a debate on bank fees. Meanwhile, the CFPB has extended its comment period seeking your views on overdraft fees until June 29.

Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took an important first step toward protecting consumers from mandatory arbitration clauses, which are boilerplate sentences in bank account and other contracts that crush consumer legal rights. ... Meanwhile, the New York Times follows up on a lawsuit by the Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson against a medical debt collector that blocks and tackles consumers trying to get through hospital emergency room doors. But it gets better. That debt collector just happens to be owned by the same hedge fund that owned a supposedly neutral (not) forced arbitration mill known as NAF and favored by the big credit card companies.   ...  Also today, the World Privacy Forum announced updates to its helpful pages on medical identity theft.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has announced a "thought starter" beta test version of a tool to make it easier to calculate college debt burdens. "The goal is to give students and their families an easy-to-understand view of how their decisions today impact your debt burden after graduation."  Meanwhile, banks and an auto finance company have confirmed that the CFPB is investigating both the marketing of overdraft protection schemes and the practices of "buy here, pay here" auto dealers.

House launches latest "hypocritical" campaign to kill CFPB

By | Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

Today the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services will vote on a budget package that eliminates the budgetary independence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) -- an effort to make it the only bank regulator subject to the political chicanery of the Appropriations process -- while simultaneously slashing its budget by 60%. Even the industry trade paper American Banker says: "Is GOP Push to Subject CFPB to Appropriations Hypocritical?"

Consumer Bureau Compared to Peace Corps

By | Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

Today, in his column "Government's Not Dead Yet," Joe Nocera of the New York Times pays a visit to the PIRG-backed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he finds vision, idealism and people working to show that "government can make a difference in people’s lives."

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