Since its inception in 2010, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been overseeing the ongoing activities of America’s financial products & services markets. Acting as both an administrator and a data reposit, the CFPB has gained billions of data bits about how America’s population markets, sells, purchases, and engages with banking services, loans, credit cards, and other financial-related capacities. Within that database are volumes of information about specific consumer groups, and October’s CFPB Complaint Report focuses on the experiences in those market sectors of America’s service members, veterans, and their families.
For a quick overview of our key findings from the October 2017 report, check out our latest Infographic here.
The CFPB and America’s Service Members
Since the Persian Gulf War began in 1991, the United States has committed approximately 19 million service members to support and active combat positions around the globe. And, while the country recognizes those efforts each year on Veteran’s Day, the CFPB established an internal office specifically designed to assist those service people with their financial situations, both while in-service and after discharge, every day of the year.
Meet the Office of Servicemember Affairs
The Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) recognizes that military service brings with it challenges not faced by non-military personnel, such as how international deployments and frequent moves present barriers to obtaining mortgages and consumer loans. Tracking the financial lifecycle of the typical service member from enlistment to retirement, the OSA works to ensure that every active American military person and veteran receives the respect and exemplary service that their sacrifices have earned. The Office provides guidance, education, and support for all Active-Duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel as well as for retirees, veterans, and their families.
What the OSA Achieves
Among their activities of educating military personnel about their financial opportunities, the OSA also works with State and Federal agencies to improve their interactions with all levels of military personnel. For example, the Office regularly participates with the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Defense in their annual, nationwide “Military Saves Week” campaign. And to ensure that all relevant local and national agencies achieve the most comprehensive outreach possible, the OSA works with 22 state attorneys-general and 21 state adjutants-general to connect military personnel with their available services.
Other Functions the OSA Performs
Additionally, the Office collects complaint data submitted by service members who have experienced problems while navigating the countries financial services sector. While the agency provides tools and supports for addressing individual claims, when possible, it will also devise rules that address those egregious behaviors and apply them across the country, not just in the region in which the complaints arose. By pursuing military-specific data across the country, the agency works to improve the experiences of all its military personnel, regardless of where they live.
Accordingly, the OSA collects and reports on the data it’s received from service members and uses that data as the foundation of its support activities and policy-development work.
The October CFPB Report on Service Member Complaints
Since 2011, the CFPB and OSA have handled over 91,000 complaints from service members about issues ranging from debt collections to anomalies in checking or savings accounts. The annual number of complaints has been rising steadily since the agency came into being, from just a few thousand in 2011 to over 15,000 in 2015 and over 20,000 in 2016.
Across the country, three states (California, Texas, and Florida) accounted for almost 10,000 complaints each (9,667; 8,528, and 8,195, respectively), while South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming each counted less than 200 complaints (163, 140, and 140 respectively).
Complaints by Sector
The OSA tracks the basis of complaints in several financial services sectors. Overall, the highest number of service member complaints stem from debt collections issues, which comprise 39 percent of all military member complaints. Mortgage challenges follow at 17 percent of the total, while credit or consumer reporting concerns account for 15 percent), and credit cards and basic banking services, each at 7 percent, make up the rest.
- The most significant concerns across the country in the debt collections sector were the persistent attempts by debt collectors to collect sums that were not owed, either because they had been paid off or because the collector was pursuing the wrong person.
- In the credit or consumer reporting sector, a majority of complaints involved incorrect information on credit reports which interfered with the serviceperson’s ability to get a mortgage or loan.
- In the basic banking arena, account management proved problematic in a majority of the complaints.
- In the mortgage arena, servicemembers complained about the struggles they had paying their mortgages.
Complaints by Service Branch
Across the five military branches, the Army was the most vocal about their concerns, submitting significantly more complaints than the other branches in the vast majority of states. The expanded volume may be attributable to the fact that the Army has more members than the other branches, (690,000 active and reserves as of end-of-year 2015, compared to the Navy’s 384.000; the Air Force’s 380,000; the Marines 222,000, and the Coast Guard’s 47,000).
After the Army, the Air Force and the Navy submitted the most complaints, with numbers varying from state to state.
The CFPB offers a financial capacity evaluation tool that is available for use by military members interested in finding out about their personal financial well being. Recognizing that financial concerns can distract the country’s military personnel from more important matters of national security, the CFPB and the OSA work together to reduce the challenges those military personnel experience as they navigate the nation’s financial services industries.