Reining in Wall Street Updates

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."

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Financial Reform

Senate Rolls Back Investor Protections

Statement of Edmund Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director on Senate Passage of the JOBS Act (Excerpt) "Today, the Senate joined the House in passing the so-called JOBS Act, legislation that will roll back investor protections, leaving senior citizens and other small investors at the mercy of the next Enron collapse, the next Gordon Gecko and the next-generation boiler room operators using social media to pitch toxic investments."

Investor rights on chopping block in U.S. Senate (updated)

By | Ed Mierzwinski
Consumer Program Director

(See updates (click Keep Reading): Today, the U.S. Senate will consider the House-passed "JOBS" Act, which weakens investor protections -- many passed after the Internet bubble burst and Enron's follow-on bankruptcy destroyed jobs and retirement savings. Its supporters claim the bill to make it easier for small companies to navigate SEC rules and  thereby promote small company growth (which theoretically creates, you guessed it, jobs), has already been thoroughly vetted. Yet, the bill is opposed by some of the Senate's most thoughtful investor champions and opposed by U.S. PIRG and numerous consumer and investor organizations. We support a substitute to be offered by Senators Jack Reed (RI), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Carl Levin (MI) because it protects investors. But if the substitute fails to get 60 votes, the JOBS Act will be non-amendable under an ill-advised special fast-track system set up to speed it through.

You may not remember any pre-2008 scandals -- dot.com bubble?; Enron scandal? --  since they are so yesterday's news. Don't worry. The House and Senate don't remember, either. If the Senate has its way with quick passage of the misnamed already-House-passed Jobs Act, -- better named by the New York Times columnist Gail Collins as the "Just Open Bucket Shops Act" -- conflicted analysts will make stuff up again, government watchdogs like the SEC and PCAOB will be chained, and small and novice investors will be looking at "crowd-funded websites" from good guys and bad guys, too, including often-fraudulent Chinese IPOs. Things are so bad that the Senate's leading investor champions aren't even sure they can get enough votes to modify the proposal -- let alone block it -- even with a compromise alternative (letter from PIRG-backed AFR/CFA). Only in Washington.

After House passage of the mislabeled Jobs Act, action shifts to to the Senate in a misguided, PIRG-opposed bi-partisan effort to weaken investor protection laws. SF Chronicle financial columnist Kathleen Pender and the NY Times ed board both rip the idea. While Congress appears trapped in a zombie-like fugue state, pretend zombies led by Iowa PIRG (WHO-TV Des Moines) marched against nuclear power this weekend. All this and more consumer  news of the week, in case you missed it.

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