You’ve probably seen this federal agency mentioned in news articles—it was a source of controversy when it was first proposed by Elizabeth Warren, now a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. But inauspicious beginning aside, this government group has a lot going for it. Spurred by the effects of the recession, the CFPB was founded in 2011 to regulate consumer-financial products and services. One of its primary aims is empowering consumers to take more control over their finances. Here are three ways to take advantage of the bureau’s offerings.
1. Find answers to personal-finance questions.
If you have a money question, the CFPB’s website—consumerfinance.gov—should be the first place you look. The bureau has come up with clear, straightforward answers to 900 common queries. Wondering if debt collectors can tell other people about your debt? How can I tell if I am working with a mortgage broker or a mortgage lender?
2. File complaints about your bank or lender.
When you’re having trouble resolving an issue with a financial institution (perhaps your credit-card company refuses to reverse fraudulent charges, or you overpaid on your mortgage and your lender won’t refund you), submit your grievance to the CFPB. Visit the bureau’s online database at consumerfinance.gov/complaint and fill out a report that details your problem and proposes what you consider to be a fair settlement. Within about three business days, the bureau will contact the institution directly, which should then contact you directly about your concern. (At press time, 94 percent of companies contacted by the CFPB had followed up with consumers about their complaints.)
3. Map out how you’ll pay for your kids’ college educations.
Now in beta mode, the site’s Paying for College tool (consumerfinance.gov/paying-for-college) enables you to create side-by-side comparisons of financial-aid packages. Put in the prospective cost for each school your child is considering (include tuition, fees, housing, meals, and transportation); the funds your child has been offered in grants, scholarships, and loans; and the amount of money you can personally contribute. The tool then computes the cost and the duration of loan payments for each school.