Searching CFPB Consumer Narratives

06/26/15

Yesterday the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) went live with its consumer complaint database, publishing over 7,700 consumer narratives detailing problems they have faced with banks, debt collectors, and other creditors. The CFPB also issued a request for information seeking public input on how it can make the data more useful to the public, including how to normalize the narratives to make them more comparable. Which prompted me to search through some of the narratives.

The website allows for viewing of the narratives online by products and services, as well as downloading of data. Some of the products are broken down by sub-product--such as medical specific debt collection and payday loan specific debt collection. The narratives in each product category seem to be searchable by words and phrases. For instance, I searched the payday loan product category by the name of a notorious lender.

There are interesting (and generally succinct) stories in some of the narratives. In my perusal of the payday loan narratives I saw a lot of what has come to light in studies about the industry. There are complaints about automatic renewal of loans, about withdrawals from bank accounts in amounts greater than consumers believed were owed, about consumers not being about to stop withdrawals from bank accounts, about payments not being applied to principal, about interest rates that the consumers believe are above their states' rate caps, about unexpectedly high processing and other fees, and about consumers being contacted repeatedly during the week before the loan was due (perhaps to convince them to roll it over?). Many of the narratives are by consumers who have spent more than a year trying to pay off the loans. And a few names of payday lenders pop up again and again, including my notorious lender, Castle Payday.

There also is a specific category for prepaid cards (and a subcategory for general purpose), which I think are becoming more widely used and perhaps are beginning to generate more complaints. I'm interested to see how researchers and the public use the information going forward. If you have thoughts on how the information can be made more useful, now is the time to let the CFPB know. 

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