Where consumers got pandemic relief, complaints to CFPB fell

New data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests that goverment efforts to ease households’ financial strains during the pandemic have reduced the number of complaints filed with the agency.

The CFPB issued a 17-page bulletin Thursday analyzing consumer complaints related largely to evictions and federal student loans. Consumer complaints in those areas generally fell between the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the enactment of relief measures, and May 2021.

Still, acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio has called out financial firms collectively for their slow response to consumer complaints. In a statement Thursday, he warned companies not to let poor customer service undermine pandemic relief measures.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted unprecedented financial hardship on consumers across the nation,” Uejio said in a press release. “Millions of families, including renters, homeowners, and student loan borrowers, are facing the end of pandemic-era protections and payment assistance in the coming months. For an equitable recovery, shoddy customer service cannot stand in the way of everyone receiving the relief Congress provided.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that complaints about evictions and federal student loans fell after temporary rules were put in place to protect consumers during the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, roughly 300 consumers per month mentioned an eviction in debt collection complaints that were filed with the CFPB.

The complaints peaked at 400 in March, fell to 350 in April and rose slightly to around 380 in May. By contrast, an estimated 6.7 million U.S. renters were behind on their payments at the end of May.

The CFPB has taken a number of actions to protect renters during the pandemic. The bureau issued an interim final rule in April 2021 that requires landlords to fully inform tenants of their rights under federal law before any eviction process starts.

The CFPB has warned large landlords that it is closely watching evictions, and the bureau said that in the complaints “few consumers described a current eviction proceeding where they were being contacted by a debt collector or an attorney.”

Instead, renters more often expressed concerns about past evictions and the potential for negative credit reporting.

In federal student lending, the CFPB received more than 500 complaints in January 2020, but the numbers fell steadily to below 300 per month after the start of the pandemic. In May 2021, the CFPB received about 250 complaints on federal student loans.

More than 40 million borrowers had their monthly federal student loan payments suspended under the pandemic relief law that was enacted in March 2020. Extensions of that protection have provided relief through September 30, 2021.

Borrowers with student loan complaints mostly described delays in getting responses from customer service and difficulties in interacting with servicers about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

The CFPB’s bulletin, which looked at complaints filed between January 2020 and May 2021, also included an analysis of grievances about economic impact payments.

Those grievances hovered below 200 a month for most of the pandemic after peaking at nearly 300 complaints in January. In May, the CFPB received only around 110 such complaints.

Several rounds of congressionally authorized economic impact payments, also known as government stimulus checks, reached an estimated 160 million Americans, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Some consumers reported being charged overdraft fees on their checking accounts, which were later reversed by their financial institutions. Others complained about account closures and confusion about overdraft practices.

In May, the CFPB issued a separate bulletin analyzing mortgage forebearance complaints, which peaked at roughly 500 in April 2020, and hovered below 400 complaints per month in 2021.

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