If you’ve struggled to resolve a problem with a financial company, this government agency would like to hear about it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established in 2011 to protect consumers and enforce rules around financial products and services. In 2013, the CFPB created a complaint tool so consumers could communicate directly with the agency, voicing concerns about credit and consumer reporting, debt collection, credit card accounts, checking or savings accounts, and mortgage problems.
But how does the CFPB complaint process work, and can complaining lead to a solution? Let’s cover the basics.
How Does a CFPB Complaint Work?
The CFPB accepts complaints about financial products like credit cards, loans, credit reports, debts, and bank accounts. The CFPB complaint process can act as a bridge between you and the business you have a complaint with. If you’ve been unable to resolve the issue or get in touch with the right person at a company, the CFPB process could help.
And your complaint could also help others. “Consumers are at the core of the CFPB’s mission,” said Darian Dorsey, deputy assistant director of CFPB’s Consumer Response, in an email to The Balance. “Consumer complaints deeply inform our strategic thinking and planning and help us better understand the challenges people are facing. Complaints help us to enforce the law, and to write better, more effective rules and regulations. If a consumer is experiencing a problem with a consumer financial product or service, they should consider submitting a complaint to the CFPB.”
As the result of your complaint and those of others, the CFPB could potentially identify and stop unfair practices, help shape government policy priorities and rules, and develop more tools to empower consumers.
What Situations Are Covered by CFPB Complaints?
A variety of financial products and services could be the subject of a complaint, including:
- Credit reporting services, credit repair services, and other personal consumer reports
- Debt collection
- Credit cards or prepaid cards
- Checking or savings accounts
- Vehicle loans or leases
- Money transfer, virtual currency, or money services
- Payday loans, title loans, or personal loans
- Student loans
Many of these product groups include subgroups. For example, debt collection is further divided based on the type of debt, such as auto debt, credit card debt, private student loan debt, or payday loan debt.
How to Check for Similar Complaints
To check for complaints already filed against a company, you can use the CFPB Consumer database, which is updated daily. You can search by the company’s name, then narrow down your results using filters for state, ZIP code, or type of product or issue. For example, you could type in a bank’s name, then narrow it down to “Problem using a debit or ATM card.”
However, you might not always find useful details. For example, the company’s response to consumers might say something as simple as “closed with explanation” or “closed with monetary relief,” with no public response. The CFPB doesn’t independently verify complaints, so some consumer complaints may have been due to simple misunderstandings.
The database only lists complaints to which companies have had an opportunity to respond. Complaints are listed after the company confirms a commercial relationship with the consumer—in other words, that the transaction or experience happened—and responds, or after the company has had the complaint for 15 calendar days, whichever comes first. If the company refuses to confirm a relationship, the complaint will not show up (however, the vast majority of complaints are responded to).
The database doesn’t include complaints found to be incomplete, those currently pending with the consumer or the CFPB, or those referred to other regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (for more on this, see the section titled, “When Shouldn’t You File a Complaint?”)
When Should You File a Complaint?
First, search the CFPB’s database of answers to frequently asked financial questions at AskCFPB. This tool may help you determine whether your complaint is a potential CFPB complaint about an unfair company practice or issue, or if it may require you to take a different action.
For example, if you search “disputing a charge on your credit card bill,” you’ll discover that you should first send a written billing error notice to your credit card company. But if you’ve already disputed the charge and feel that the company isn’t following CFPB’s guidelines on pending disputes (for example, they’re demanding that you pay the disputed amount right away), you might consider filing a complaint with the CFPB.
If you’ve already tried to remedy the issue or are confused about what to do next, you might consider filing a CFPB complaint.
When Shouldn’t You File a Complaint?
The CFPB focuses on financial companies such as lending institutions, not other consumer issues such as poor restaurant service or delayed flights. Some financial complaints should be filed with another entity instead of the CFPB—for example, the Department of Education handles complaints about Pell Grants and federal student loans. You also shouldn’t file a CFPB complaint if your concern involves:
- Deceptive mortgage practices or scams
- Rental housing discrimination
- Landlord/tenant disputes
- Car rentals
- Auto repair shops
- Deceptive car ads or dealers
- Car warranties
- Car safety
- Cable and phone complaints
- U.S. Postal Service issues
- U.S. Government
Instead, you should file a complaint with other agencies or organizations such as your state attorney general or consumer protection agency; the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Aviation Commission, or Federal Communications Commission; or non-government entities such as the Better Business Bureau.
Some complaints may involve multiple agencies. For example, a mortgage-related complaint could involve the CFPB, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Justice. If the CFPB thinks another government agency could assist you, they’ll forward your complaint to that agency, but you may be able to save time by sending it to the right place. Use this tool to see where to send complaints for different situations.
The CFPB can’t give legal advice or represent individuals in legal matters. If you want more help resolving your complaint, you can contact a private attorney or your local legal aid office for free or low-cost legal resources.
How to File a CFPB Complaint
Once you’ve established that your issue should go to the CFPB, follow these steps.
Take your time to gather as much information as possible before filing your complaint, because you generally can’t submit a second complaint about the same problem. Collect the following information before you start the process:
- Details such as dates, amounts, case numbers, or customer numbers.
- A description of what happened, including the names of people who were involved and the steps you took to try to resolve the issue on your own.
- Documents such as emails, letters, or billing statements that can help support your case.
Choose a Category
Identify the general product or category for your complaint by following the CFPB’s multiple-choice questions. After you choose a category, such as credit reporting, you may need to select a sub-category, such as credit report or credit score issues.
Identify the Type of Problem
Next, choose which type of problem you’re having, such as finding incorrect information on your credit report. You may then need to choose from further options, such as incorrect personal information or incorrect account statuses. You’ll also need to indicate whether you’ve already asked the company to fix the problem.
Describe the Problem and Add Documentation
At this point, you’ll have the opportunity to write down your story of what happened, including dates, amounts, and actions you took. The CFPB emphasizes that you shouldn’t include any personal information such as your name or Social Security number. You can also describe what you’d consider a “fair resolution” of your problem.
You have the option to attach documents supporting your claims, which are forwarded to the company along with the complaint. At this point, you can also choose whether you’d like the CFPB to publish your description of your experience.
If you wish to hide personal information on a document, you should remove or cover it before uploading the document to the CFPB site.
Name the Company and Add Your Personal Information
You’ll add the name of the company (or companies) you’re complaining about. Next, you’ll note who was involved in the complaint—you, someone else, or you and someone else—and submit contact information like phone numbers and email addresses. You can also specify certain affiliations, such as if you’re a servicemember or small business owner.
Review and Submit
Finally, you’ll get a chance to review the entire complaint before filing it and to make any necessary revisions. You’ll also check a box to acknowledge that the information is true, and you understand that the CFPB isn’t a financial advisor, lawyer, or court.
What Happens After a Complaint Is Filed?
After you submit your complaint, the CFPB forwards it and any supporting documentation to the company that provided the financial service. Before responding, the company might directly contact you to confirm your identity or the transaction.
Within 15 days, the company will review your complaint and likely respond about how they’ll address your problem. In other cases, the company might just let you know they’re working on a response and will provide a final response within 60 days.
The CFPB says 98% of consumer complaints it sends to companies get timely responses.
Then, the CFPB will publish your complaint in its database, including the subject, date, and—with your permission and without any personally identifying details—the actual content of your complaint. After you review the company’s response, you have 60 days to provide feedback on how it handled the issue.
No matter the outcome of an individual complaint, complaints and consumer feedback about the company’s response are shared with the company and used to inform the CFPB’s work with consumer complaints.