The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued a new warning to credit card companies in order to curb recent deceptive marketing practices. This is not the first time that the CFPB has warned credit card companies to be more clear with their offerings to consumers.
This time, the warning came in the form of a bulletin issued by the CFPB on September 3, 2014, which focused on potentially confusing credit card solicitations which lure in consumers but contain hidden terms. In particular, the CFPB notes that this type potentially deceptive or abusive advertising behavior has occurred in the context of convenience checks, deferred interest/promotional interest-rate purchases, and balance transfers. The CFPB urges credit card companies to clearly and sufficiently inform their customers of all caveats and fine print with regards to these special programs in order to prevent unexpected consumer defaults. For example, a consumer who signs up for a special promotional annual percentage rates (APR) rate should not be surprised when, after making one late payment, the special promotional APR rate disappears.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray is urging that, “[b]efore they sign up, consumers need to understand the true cost of these promotions.” Failing to sufficiently explain the promotional terms of a credit card account could warrant stiff penalties from the agency. In addition to issuing this warning to credit card companies, the CFPB has also introduced new materials onto its own webpage (www.consumerfinance.gov). This type of information will not only help consumers better understand their own credit card agreements, and also presumably to instruct credit card companies what sample agreements should look like.
One reason the CFPB might be scrutinizing credit card companies again is that in July of this year, the CFPB's released its most recent "Snapshot of Complaints Received," which solicits complaints from aggrieved consumers. This "Snapshot" is used by the CFPB as a litmus test to determine what areas of consumer finance require additional attention. One key statistic from the July 2014 report shows that 14% of all consumer complaints to the CFPB directly involved credit card companies. Whether the additional warnings from the CFPB will pressure credit card companies, and possibly cause a reduction in this percentage is yet to be seen.