CFPB Report Identifies Top Military Consumer Complaints

By Laura Roler, Military Saves Associate, AFC® Candidate, FINRA Military Spouse Fellow

The Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released its third annual Snapshots of Complaints Received from Servicemembers, Veterans and their Families. This report provides a review of the 29,500 servicemember complaints received beginning in 2011 through 2014 and details the data, trends, and problems of the military community, as well as the outreach and actions the CFPB is taking to address them.

Complaint Categories

The report divides the complaints received into 11 complaint categories. The top five are detailed below:

39% Debt Collection Complaints

The CFPB received approximately 11,600 debt collection complaints from servicemembers. Problems reported included collection attempts of debts not owed, inappropriate or illegal communication tactics and threats, and improper sharing of information, among others. Servicemembers have reported that debt collectors have threatened to report unpaid debts to their commanding officers, have them demoted, or get their security clearance revoked. Read more on this issue on the CFPB blog.

24% Mortgage Complaints

Servicemembers submitted approximately 7,100 mortgage complaints to the CFPB. Complaints involved issues such as problems with loan modifications, servicing, payments, and applications, as well as credit decisions and other mortgage issues. This issue is a particular risk to servicemembers with PCS orders, and has been a focus of the CFPB since 2012.

9% Credit Reporting Complaints

Approximately 2,700 credit reporting complaints were received from servicemembers. Some of the reported problems included incorrect information on their credit reports, problems with a credit reporting agency's investigation, and improper use of credit reports. Servicemembers continue to worry that negative credit information will affect their security clearances and careers.

8% Credit Card Complaints

The CFPB received approximately 2,500 credit card complaints from servicemembers. The top complaints in this category included billing disputes, identity theft, interest rates, and fees assessed during deployment and moves.

8% Bank Account or Service Complaints

Servicemembers submitted approximately 2,400 complaints about bank accounts or services. Top complaints included issues with account management, access, deposits and withdrawals, payment problems, fraud, and fees. Account management can be especially difficult for servicemembers and their families during deployment.

Read the report to see all complaints.

Complaint Resolutions

The CFPB's Office of Consumer Response sent approximately 18,900 servicemember complaints to companies for review and response. Companies responded to 95% of servicemember complaints received, and closed 92% of those complaints. Servicemembers were asked to provide feedback on the response within 30 days; 69% did not dispute the responses provided by the companies.

CFPB Outreach Efforts

In addition to complaint data, the report also highlighted the 2014 outreach efforts of the OSA to the military community. Highlights include:

  • Visits to 34 military installations hosting events such as leadership roundtables and town hall sessions.
  • Reached approximately 7,000 servicemembers, veterans, and military families.
  • Conducted 20 outreach events to stakeholder groups such as financial industry groups, federal and state governments, and other military consumer protection advocates.
  • Conducted 14 veteran outreach events.
  • Collaborated with and supported federal agencies and non-governmental organizations on initiatives such as Military Saves Week and Military Consumer Protection Day.

CFPB Enforcement Actions

Three of the many 2014 CFPB public enforcement actions had significant impacts on servicemembers:

CFPB Spotlight

The sheer number of servicemembers complaints received by OSA emphasizes the difficulty servicemembers have in managing accounts, and is detailed in Section 2 of the report.

Certain aspects of military service can make the day-to-day use of financial products more complicated. Deployments, operational tempo, overseas assignments, and frequent moves can interfere with the receipt of information on account notices and changes, as well as delay servicemember actions to respond to financial institutions to or adjust account features.

Some of the complaints involve the problems military spouses and designated family members encounter when handling finances during a servicemember's deployment. Previously arranged account authorizations and Powers of Attorney are often insufficient to address account issues and can result in increased fees, account balances, and negative information sent to credit reporting agencies.

These problems can affect even the most financially proactive servicemember. Therefore, the CFPB has issued some suggested practices for companies when working with military consumers:

  • Provide clear instructions on obtaining appropriate levels of account access for military spouses and designated family members, defining what that person can and cannot do with their account privileges.
  • Provide military consumers with their policies on Powers of Attorney (POA). Company acceptance of POA's, the type of POA required, and special formats or languages should be specified in communications to servicemembers and included on company websites.
  • Provide sufficient methods of communication accessible to servicemembers. Customer service and resolution services available only through telephone and fax may not be accessible to deployed servicemembers or those stationed overseas. 

The CFPB OSA works to address the financial challenges of servicemembers, veterans, and their families. If you are experiencing a problem with a financial product or service, submit a complaint here

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