The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently made its credit card complaint database available to the public. The data is being refreshed daily beginning with June 1, 2012. The database website provides some sample visualizations that can be created from the data. The visualization tool is pretty robust, but does require some basic skill with spreadsheets and database use to make it generate useful charts.
What's great about the CFPB releasing this data is that, normally, it would only be available to someone who took the time to file a Freedom of Information Act request. By making the data available to all, the CFPB is taking steps to increase transparency in government. The information is searchable by credit card company, ZIP Code of the complaining party, among other fields. The visualization tools allow you to view complaints plotted on a map of the U.S., for example.
When a consumer submits a complaint to the CFPB, the Bureau notifies the card issuer of the complaint. The card issuer has 15 days to respond to the Bureau. In general, it is expected that the issuer will resolve and close the complaint in 60 days. If the card issuer fails to respond on time, or if other red flags are raised, then the complaint is referred over to the CFPB's Consumer Response division, which works closely with the other enforcement-level divisions of the CFPB.
For a more detailed account of how the CFBP handles consumer complaints, you can read the Bureau's report here.
As one might expect, the American Bankers Association is not too fond of this initiative:
"The complaint data are incomplete, unrepresentative, and unverified, and therefore, if released according to specific categories as proposed, an unreliable and misleading source of information about customer experience and satisfaction with the value, reliability, and functionality of any financial product that will mislead consumers."
However, as Jeff Sovern notes, this isn't that different than consumer credit reports, many of which contain inaccurate information. Even when consumers append their own comments to a negative credit report entry, there is no evidence that lenders pay any attention to those comments.
If any of our readers are better at using the CFPB's data visualization tools than I am, please share your charts and graphs in the comments.
If you want to submit a complaint related to credit cards, mortgages, bank accounts, student loans, or other consumer loans click here.