Consumers having problems with their credit card companies have a new resource to shine light on the most common complaints and to help people avoid future disputes.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the consumer watchdog agency created by Congress in the wake of the financial crisis, has launched an online database that tracks consumer grievances about credit cards.
The website, www.consumerfinance.gov/complaintdatabase , shows which issuers have the most complaints, the types of problems and how the disputes were handled.
"We believe it's the first time for the public to see such individual complaint data (on credit cards)," Consumer Bureau Director Richard Cordray said. "Anyone with access to the Web will be able to review and analyze the information."
Consumer groups applauded the effort, saying the information would help consumers make better choices.
People shopping for a credit card can look for complaints about specific card issuers to see if other consumers have had problems, the Consumer Federation of America's director of consumer protection, Susan Grant, said in an email.
She said the database also would help lawmakers, consumer groups, researchers and financial institutions identify and address unfair or abusive practices.
The credit card industry had sought to keep the names of the card issuers private, arguing that not all complaints were legitimate, so results could be misleading.
While the CFPB doesn't verify the accuracy of the complaints, it confirms that the consumer lodging the complaint is a customer of the card company.
Financial institutions have 15 days to respond to a complaint, and most issues are expected to be resolved in 60 days.
The CFPB began taking complaints on credit card companies on July 21, 2011. Between then and June 1, the bureau logged nearly 17,000 complaints. The online database, which is in test form, includes only complaints received since June 1, or a total of 171 complaints.
The CFPB expects to add retroactive data by the end of the year, and eventually include consumer complaints on mortgages and student loans, Cordray said.
Among the 171 complaints in June, Capital One Financial Corp., the fifth-biggest card issuer in the nation, had the most with 38. No. 4 Citibank was second with 30, and No. 2 JPMorgan Chase was third with 26.
The database allows consumers to search complaints by company, consumer ZIP code or subject matter.
The CFPB also released a snapshot report for credit card complaints received prior to June.
Overall, the most common complaints involved billing disputes, with consumers "confused and frustrated" about how to challenge inaccuracies on their monthly statements, the bureau said. For example, some consumers only realize after it's too late that they must notify their card company within 60 days of any billing errors. Other common complaints were about interest rates, identity theft and fraud.
"By making our data publicly available, initially in the area of credit cards, we hope to improve the transparency and efficiency of this essential consumer market," Cordray said.
The CFPB will use the data to help assess the need for new regulations, he said. Consumers can submit complaints online at the new database website or at www.consumerfinance.gov . The Consumer Bureau also accepts complaints by telephone at 1-855-411-2372.
In addition to credit cards, the bureau takes complaints about a number of financial products, including student loans, car loans, consumer loans, mortgages, bank accounts and banking services.
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