The New Credit Card Complaints Database

Ever wish the government would provide a forum for credit card complaints? Well, now they have

In an “about time” move, the U.S. government recently created an online clearinghouse for consumer credit card complaints. On June 1, 2012, a little- known agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled the beta version of its online Consumer Complaint Database.

The new website tracks a variety of metrics… but it’s a little confusing, to be honest.

Nice Try!

You may have heard of this site before, because it was widely reported on the national news. The CFPB has actually been tracking credit card complaints since mid-2011, racking up 17,000 in that time period — but the site only displays data since June 1.

The mission of the CFPB is to “make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans.” And bless ’em, they mean well. But as the issuers are quick to point out, so far the total number of complaints represents a tiny percentage of America’s 383 million credit card accounts.

Using the Database

At the moment the complaints database interface is a little cluttered and requires a learning curve to use, which won’t appeal to ‘Net users of the instant gratification type (i.e., most of us). It’s ideal for pro analysts, though, and for patient amateurs willing to work hard for their research.

The site is a great start, but I don’t think it’s especially user friendly for the average American. If you want to look at the data, say for your local area, you have to open or download the whole database, and then filter it. You can filter by Zip Code, complaint type, outcome, and many other factors.

Slow Response

People are a little slow to take to the complaints database, so far. As of July 17, 2012, the most recent update as I wrote this article (July 23; the site is supposed to update daily), volume is relatively low: just 1,931 complaints, with the numbers dropping off rapidly toward mid-July. No explanation as to why.

In any case, nearly all the complaints are limited to the big bank issuers you’d expect (no surprise, since they dominate the market), and the dataset reveals how each complaint was resolved (if it has been). Issuers complain it’s misleading because the CFPB doesn’t verify the facts of each case, which is true.

Bottom-Lining It

Despite its flaws, the new site is an excellent consumer resource. The CFPB’s main database site offers various reports, assistance, guidance and regulations to help you out. If you’ve got any complaints go to the Consumer Finance Complaint website.

Be patient. The online form for credit card complaints is five pages long and quite thorough… but once you fill it out, they’ll forward the complaint to the card issuer for you!