The CFPB has issued its Consumer Response Annual Report, which analyzes the approximately 542,300 complaints received by the CFPB between January 1 and December 31, 2020.  The number of   complaints received in 2020 represents a nearly 54% increase over the approximately 352,400 complaints received in 2019.  The report details the trends in consumer complaints across various categories and provides information about the CFPB’s process for handling complaints.

As of February 1, 2021, the Bureau sent approximately 84%  (456,100) of the 542,300 complaints to approximately 3,300 companies for review and response, referred 9% to other regulatory agencies, and found 7% to be incomplete.

Companies provided timely responses to approximately 99% of the approximately 456,100 complaints sent to them by the Bureau for response in 2020.  Approximately 3% of such complaints were closed with monetary relief; 6% were closed with non-monetary relief (e.g., mortgage foreclosure alternatives, stopping unwanted calls from debt collectors, correcting information in a consumer report, etc.); 87% were closed with explanation (i.e., the response substantively meets the consumer’s desired resolution or explains why no action was taken); 2% resulted in an administrative response requiring further review by the CFPB; less than 1% are still being reviewed by the company; 1% did not receive a timely response.

According to the CFPB’s breakdown by category, complaints regarding credit reporting (319,000 or 59%), debt collection (82,700 or 15%), credit cards (235,900 or 7%), checking or savings (30,000 or 6%), and mortgages (29,400 or 5%) accounted for approximately 92% of the 542,300 total complaints.

The CFPB attributes the sharp increase in the number of complaints it received in 2020 to the pandemic’s disruption to the consumer financial marketplace.  The increased volume of complaints in 2020 was primarily the result of credit reporting complaints.  In its press release about the report, the Bureau highlights the following issues related to credit reporting complaints:

  • The CFPB received more complaints from consumers about inaccurate information on their credit and consumer reports in 2020 than in 2019.
  • While the nationwide credit reporting agencies (NCRAs) typically provided substantive and comparatively detailed responses to the majority of complaints in prior years, the CFPB observed that in 2020, the NCRAs stopped providing complete and accurate responses to many complaints.
  • The NCRAs provided closure responses noting that a dispute would be filed on the consumer’s behalf, but otherwise failed to address the issues consumers raised in their complaints.
  • The NCRAs mentioned suspected third-party activity in their responses to consumers, but did not detail steps taken to authenticate consumers or to address the issues raised in their complaints.

Acting Director Uejio’s message contained in the report, his statements to CFPB staff, and the confirmation hearing testimony of Director-nominee Chopra make clear that consumer complaints will  play a major role in the “new CFPB’s” use of its supervisory and enforcement authority.  In addition, companies should expect close scrutiny from the “new CFPB” of their practices for handling complaints.  In his February 2021 statement to the Bureau’s Division of Consumer Education and External Affairs, Mr. Uejio directed Consumer Response to prepare a report highlighting the companies with a poor track record in responding to consumer complaints and indicated that “making sure that consumers who submit complaints to us get the response and the relief they deserve” will be among his top priorities.  Mr. Uejio also raised concerns about racial disparities in complaint responses that he references again in his report message.  In the message, he states that “the Bureau continues to analyze complaint data to understand and detail disparities observed in complaints submitted from Black , Brown, and Indigenous communities and will publish these analyses to inform the marketplace.”