Earlier this month, the Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) released its annual report covering the Office’s activities during fiscal year 2019, which covers the period of October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019.
Noteworthy items include:
- Top Complaints Received from Military Consumers During FY19. In FY19, the same overall number of complaints (34,600) were submitted as in FY18. Complaints were received from servicemembers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with the largest number of complaints coming from California, Texas, and Florida (states that the OSA pointed out have the largest veteran concentrations). The top five areas of complaints were received regarding:
- Credit or consumer reporting (36%): Of these, the largest number of complaints focused on incorrect credit reporting, followed by problems with investigations into existing credit or consumer reporting issues.
- Debt collection (25%): The largest number of debt collection complaints concerned “attempts to collect debt not owed” for miscellaneous products and services such as phone bills, health club memberships, and home utility services, followed by credit card debt.
- Mortgage (10%): Of these, the largest number of complaints concerned conventional home mortgages followed by VA mortgages. The majority of complaints involved “trouble during payment process.”
- Credit card (8%): Complaints regarding credit cards touched on a variety of issues including problems with purchases shown on statements, complaints concerning fees or interest or other credit card features or terms, complaints concerning getting a credit card, and problems making payments. Notably, only 2 percent of servicemember complaints involved struggling to pay their credit card bills.
- Checking or savings accounts (7%): The majority of complaints in this category focused on issues with managing an account.
Smaller numbers of complaints were also received regarding student loans, vehicle loans or leases, money transfers, money services and virtual currencies, personal loans, prepaid cards, payday loans, credit repair, and title loans. The largest number of complaints regarding personal and payday loans involved military consumers complaining they were charged unexpected fees or interest.
The demographic data that was collected suggests veterans (47%) submitted more complaints than other categories of military consumers, and more complaints were made by military consumers associated with the United States Army (37%) than other branches of service.
- Research Reports in FY19. The OSA, the Office of Financial Education, and the Office of Research issued two reports this year regarding studies of military consumers.
- Survey Results on Financial Well-being of Veterans. The Bureau analyzed nationwide financial well-being survey results and focused on statistically significant survey response data from veterans. The Bureau concluded that veterans who took the survey reported higher levels of financial well-being than the average U.S. adult.
- VA-Home Loans. The Bureau analyzed servicemember first-time homebuyer data over a ten-year period from 2006-2016. It found a marked increase in VA-home loans, increasing from 30 percent of loans before 2007 to 78 percent of loans in 2016.
- Educational Activities and Coordination with Other Federal and State Government Agencies. The OSA engaged in numerous activities to educate and empower military consumers regarding consumer financial products and services along with coordination with other federal and state government agencies
- MiMM. The OSA continued to develop its flagship tool, Misadventures in Money Management (MiMM), a choose-your-own adventure style interactive graphic novel that takes users through a variety of real life financial choices. In 2018, the OSA launched a new government website (MiMM.gov) to make it easier to access. Overall, 74% of players who completed the MiMM game-based training scored higher on the post-assessment than they did on the pre-assessment.
- Factsheets and Pamphlets. The OSA also developed educational factsheets, pamphlets, and other documents to provide relevant and timely information to military consumers regarding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the Military Lending Act (MLA), the financial well-being of veterans, VA mortgage lending, foreclosure protections, medical debt, and credit reporting/monitoring for military consumers.
- Outreach efforts. During FY19, the Bureau taught military attorneys how to spot consumer protection issues when providing legal assistance and engaged in outreach efforts to military consumers in-person, through e-mail and social media campaigns, and the Bureau’s online consumer education tool, Ask CFPB.
- Multi-agency coordination. Several agencies collaborated to develop an outreach program for veteran nursing homes and other veteran meal-service organizations to educate older veterans about scams involving VA benefits through information on food placemats. The Bureau also collaborated with FTC to develop a four-part blog post series to educate military consumers about the car-buying process, shopping for auto financing, assessing whether to purchase a new or used car, how to trade in a car, and identifying add-on products.