New data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests that government efforts to ease household financial pressures during the pandemic have reduced the number of complaints filed with the agency.
The CFPB published a 17-page bulletin Thursday analyzing consumer complaints, mostly related to evictions and federal student loans. Consumer complaints in these areas generally fell between the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the adoption of the relief measures, and May 2021.
Still, acting CFPB director Dave Uejio has been calling on financial firms collectively for their slow response to consumer complaints. In a statement Thursday, he warned companies not to allow poor customer service to undermine relief efforts for the pandemic.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented financial hardship for consumers across the country," Uejio said in a press release. “Millions of families, including renters, homeowners and student loan borrowers, face the end of pandemic-era protection and payment support in the coming months. For a fair recovery, shabby customer service can't stand in the way of everyone getting the help Congress provided. ”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said complaints about evictions and federal student loans decreased after temporary rules were put in place to protect consumers during the pandemic.
The CFPB found that consumer awareness that they can file complaints about a specific problem or market affects the number of complaints the agency receives.
Throughout the pandemic, around 300 consumers a month mentioned an eviction in debt collection complaints filed with the CFPB.
The complaints peaked at 400 in March, dropped to 350 in April and rose slightly to around 380 in May. In contrast, as of the end of May, an estimated 6.7 million U.S. renters were behind on their payments.
The CFPB has taken a number of measures to protect tenants during the pandemic. The office issued a preliminary final ruling in April 2021 that requires landlords to fully inform tenants of their federal rights before eviction proceedings begin.
The CFPB has warned major landlords that it is closely monitoring evictions, and the bureau said the complaints "few consumers described an ongoing eviction procedure where they were contacted by a debt collection agency or a lawyer".
Instead, tenants were more likely to express concerns about previous evictions and the possibility of negative credit reports.
In the federal student loan space, the CFPB received more than 500 complaints in January 2020, but the number has steadily decreased to below 300 per month after the pandemic began. In May 2021, the CFPB received around 250 complaints about federal student loans.
More than 40 million borrowers had suspended their monthly payments for federal student loans under the Pandemic Aid Act, which came into force in March 2020. Extensions to this protection have brought relief through September 30, 2021.
Borrowers with student loan complaints mostly described delays in receiving responses from customer service and difficulty interacting with service providers regarding the public service loan program.
The CFPB bulletin, which dealt with complaints filed between January 2020 and May 2021, also included an analysis of the complaints about payments with economic implications.
Those complaints were below 200 per month for most of the pandemic, having peaked with nearly 300 complaints in January. In May, the CFPB only received around 110 such complaints.
Multiple rounds of Congressional-approved economic impact payments, also known as government economic controls, reached an estimated 160 million Americans, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Some consumers reported overdraft fees on their checking accounts that were later canceled by their financial institutions. Others complained about account closures and confusion over overdraft practices.
In May, the CFPB published a separate bulletin analyzing mortgage waiver complaints, which peaked at around 500 in April 2020 and below 400 complaints per month in 2021.