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Consumer watchdog unveils list of top lending gripes

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) made its database of complaints against mortgage issuers, student loan firms, credit bureaus and other kinds of lenders available to the public for the first time on Thursday. 

The database covers 90,000 complaints with more than 1 million data points covering 450 companies.

The CFPB spreadsheet allows consumers to find the most complained-about banks in highly specific categories. For example, Capital One received the most complaints about credit cards, and Bank of America received the most complaints about traditional adjustable-rate mortgages.

It's important to note that the data isn't normalized and that banks with more customers receive more complaints.

Data can be sorted at the bureau's website by state or company. It can also be downloaded for free and used in privately developed applications. 

The agency's complaint database was released on a limited scale last year, and included only 19,000 credit card-related complaints. Thursday's announcement represents a large expansion of publicly available data. 

The bureau hopes consumers can use the information to make more informed choices about banks they do business with. "By sharing these complaints with the public, we are creating greater transparency in consumer financial products and services,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “The database is good for consumers and it is also good for honest businesses."

Complaints are listed in the CFPB database only after the company responds to the complaint or after they have had the complaint for 15 days. Records include the type of complaint, the consumer's ZIP code, the company, and the resolution. Consumers' names and other personal information are not shared.

Among student loans and mortgages, about two-thirds of the complaints involve consumers who are having trouble repaying their loans, according to an analysis provided by the CFPB of complaints filed through February. Many of the mortgage complaints reflect consumers' paperwork-related frustrations when attempting loan modifications. 

Nearly three-quarters of the 6,700 complaints filed against credit bureaus involve inaccurate information. Credit card complaints are more scattered, with billing disputes making up 15 percent. A common gripe, the bureau says: Consumers don't realize they have to dispute a suspicious item on their credit card bills within 60 days.

In a blog post that accompanied the release of the data, CFPB official Scott Pluta said he hoped consumers would be creative and find new ways to examine and use the data.

"From infographics to iPhone apps, we’ve seen people do amazing things with the credit card complaint data that was available before today," Pluta said. "We encourage the public, including consumers, analysts, data scientists, civic hackers and companies that serve consumers, to analyze, augment, and build on the information in the database to develop ways for consumers to use the complaint data or mash it up with other public data sets to reveal potential trends."

The bureau plans to expand the data to other complaint categories in the future, he added.

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