Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: When to consider a student loan lawyer. Also in the news: Why gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will impact your wallet, how much you should expect to pay when applying to college, and why you should try a credit union if you’re looking for free checking.

When to Consider a Student Loan Lawyer
Making a big decision.

Your Wallet Will Suffer If This Agency Is Gutted
It’s on the chopping block.

Applying to College? Expect to Pay at Least This Much
Get ready.

If You Want Free Checking, Try a Credit Union
Avoiding monthly maintenance fees.

President-elect Trump, save the CFPB

Ten years ago, bullies had taken over the playground. Financial service firms preyed on their customers with impunity:

—Lenders made expensive, risky mortgages to people who couldn’t afford to pay the money back.

—Credit card issuers foisted overpriced insurance and other add-on products on millions of unsuspecting customers.

—Credit bureaus ignored evidence submitted by people disputing errors in their credit reports.

—Companies sold delinquent debts to collection agencies that ran amok, violating fair debt collection laws and strong-arming people into repaying debts they didn’t even owe.

People’s complaints fell on deaf ears, since consumer protection wasn’t a priority at any agency. Huge swaths of the credit and debt industries, including credit bureaus, collection agencies and payday lenders, operated with little government oversight.

Then the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau pushed back.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why President-elect Donald Trump needs to save the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Should your credit card issuer have to give you free credit scores?

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today called on major credit card issuers to provide free scores to their customers on their statements or online. The regulator’s idea is that low scores could tip people off to problems in their credit reports–problems they might not otherwise find, since too few people get their free credit reports each year.

Creditors use a variety of scores to evaluate and monitor their customers–scores that measure everything from the likelihood of default to the likelihood the user will stop using the card. It’s the score that measures the likelihood of default that the regulators want customers to see.

I believe you should be able to see any score that’s used to evaluate you, and that you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Getting scores from your credit card company could be a good start, assuming the companies aren’t allowed to sub in some “FAKO” score that no one actually uses.

The problem comes in the execution. Seeing their scores is likely to make a lot of people upset, and not just the folks with low scores. People with high scores usually want to know why their scores aren’t even higher. Credit card companies may not want to mess with having to explain how scores work or take the heat for a process they don’t control. (Credit scoring formulas are created by other companies, like FICO-creators Fair Isaac, and applied to data held by the credit bureaus.)

We’ll have to stay tuned to see if any major issuers bite. In the meantime, you can get free scores from sites like Credit.com and Credit Karma, although they aren’t the FICO scores most lenders use. For those, you’ll need to go to MyFico.com and pay.

New tool helps you compare financial aid offers

You’ve gotten the college acceptance letters, and their accompanying financial aid offers. But how do you really decipher how much college will really cost you? More than 1.5 million students and their families are wrestling with these issues, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to help. The bureau just announced a tool that can help you evaluate your options. From the CFPB press release:

The beta version of the Financial Aid Comparison Shopper has more than 7,500 schools and institutions in its database, including vocational schools and community, state, and private colleges. It draws information from publicly available data provided by government statistical agencies. With the prototype, students and their families can compare the following across multiple financial aid offers:

·         Estimated monthly student loan payment after graduation;

·         Grant and scholarship offers;

·         School-specific metrics such as graduation, retention, and federal student loan default rates; and

·         Estimated debt level at graduation in relationship to the average starting salary.

The Financial Aid Comparison Shopper also includes a “Military Benefit Calculator” that can estimate education benefits for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The calculator includes military tuition assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

You’ll find a link to the cost comparison tool here. Take a look, run some numbers and give the CFPB your feedback.

Regulator targets mortgage servicers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to “whip the mortgage servicing industry into shape,” as this post on The Consumerist puts it, and such action is long overdue. Mortgage servicers have been the choke point in the mortgage mess, often costing people their homes because of their inefficiency, inaction and indifference. The CFPB wants to increase transparency and accountability among servicers, which take people’s mortgage payments and pass them along, minus a small cut, to the loans’ owners. Here’s how CFPB head Richard Cordray put it in a speech today to Operation HOPE:

“This industry has never had a requirement, or a strong incentive, to meet the needs of consumers.  Even before the crisis, there were already problems with bad practices and sloppy recordkeeping. When the financial crisis hit, however, things got much worse…And instead of investing in new personnel and processes, too many mortgage servicers took short-cuts that made things far worse for homeowners in trouble.

Picture every bad customer service experience you have ever had: calls going unanswered, glacially slow processes, mistakes made and not fixed, a kaleidoscopic cast of human beings who never seem to deal with you more than once, your paperwork submitted and lost repeatedly.  Now, multiply that mountain of frustration exponentially, and you can begin to get an inkling of the scope of the problems that Americans face:  house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, and community by community.

And it is not just consumers who suffer.  Mortgage investors do not benefit from a broken system where servicers do not fulfill their obligations or make reasonable efforts to mitigate losses.  And this failed business model widened the pain of the housing crisis and destroyed an incalculable measure of consumer trust in financial businesses, perhaps in a lasting way.”

Cordray points out that consumers have absolutely no control over which company winds up servicing their loans and can’t walk away from bad service. He quotes Abraham Lincoln, who said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.”

Like everyone else who’s covered the mortgage industry, I’ve heard horror story after horror story from people given the runaround by their mortgage servicers. People have lost their homes, and investors have suffered far worse losses than necessary, because the servicing industry is so messed up.

The CFPB’s proposed rules won’t give people back the homes they’ve already lost, but it could prevent needless foreclosures in the future.