This is a guest post by the secret lover of Elizabeth Warren, and the second installment of ‘Dealing with Financial Services complaints’. Start with Part 1 here if you missed it.
How to Complain / get your rights
Even before you start your complain process, 2 critical things that you should think about: how were you harmed and what you wish would happen. Apply reasonableness to your requests and be prepared to clearly articulate how you were harmed and how you were harmed – makes the entire process pretty easy.
To complain about issues, I typically recommend the following order:
Call the company
First step is to call the company explain your situation and ask for resolution. Many reps may try to defend the policy and I have always found it useful to state that you understand the policy yet articulate why you think there is still something wrong. If you don’t like / trust the answer you can apply a good case of “HUCA”.
If agents are intransigent on policy, don’t threaten to complain to regulators – rather ask politely who is the regulator for the financial institution, plus the regulator’s address; you can always add that you specifically intend to complain. Note that many institutions are required by law to disclose this and, if not, if they refuse to provide that information you can add that to your complaint (make institutions look like they are acting in bad faith). Also, clearly document conversations (mainly dates and interactions), so that you can be as detailed as possible in your complaint.
File a CFPB complaint
Many find this step as a quick escalation of the issue, but it forces the company to automatically issue an official response. A couple of key pieces of your complaint:
- describe facts in a summary fashion – focus on what caused harm to you
- explain clearly why you think it is wrong – think of the set of laws described above; you don’t have to quote the law, but apply terms / wording close to it (e.g. “I feel that the fees I was charged were abusive because…”, or “I don’t think it was properly explained to me that….”)
- acknowledge what the company did right – this is an important step folks forget; this establishes that you “get it” and you are an average “reasonable consumer”
- state clearly the resolution that you want
Note that the company may still not respond in your favor. If you feel that their response did not address / miss a critical element, re-iterate it. The process may seem cumbersome, but other consumers like you may have been unjustly treated and it is important to start establishing a pattern.
Also remember that even though CFPB is not the “all in” regulator for all areas, the CFPB will forward your complaint automatically to the right regulator
Here is the link to file a CFPB complaint.
Write to your state’s Attorney General (AG)
If you feel that CFPB / other regulator is not getting where you want (some of these issues may take a while to escalate). The key to going to your state’s attorney general is to find more people in your area in the same situation as you – go online and be sure that you find some folks that are willing to complain with you (and have also unfortunately not gotten anyone with the CFPB).
The experience with your AG may differ state by state, but 2 things that AG’s office consider:
- More people complaining = more attention; the more people you get to complain with you, the better
- Many states may have additional regulation to federal law that give you more ammunition to your case – this is important to research and put it in context for AG’s office
Once again the AG process may be slow and it will take a while to get some response. It also depends how your case falls in the overall judicial priority of the AG and their overall case workload (not even to mention political priority).
Hire a lawyer
As a last resort you can hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit. 2 scenarios which this may make sense:
- When required resolution has to be fast before severe damage occurs (e.g., a foreclosure situation)
- When damages are significant that the cost-benefit of hiring a lawyer makes sense
- Hopefully just a minority of folks will have to exercise their rights via this last method.
There are several and diverse laws that govern financial services and you, as a consumer, have several layers of protection. If you feel something is wrong, speak up and exercise your right and, if needed, take the appropriate action.
This was the second installment of ‘Dealing with Financial Services complaints’. Check out Part 1 here if you missed it.