On Thursday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched a new, neatly-designed feature called Ask CFPB that seeks to give consumers straightforward, honest answers about financial products. “While the Internet can serve up an answer,” goes the press release, “how can you be sure it’s the right one?”
And this is the appeal of the site, which currently hosts more than 350 answers to consumer questions, mostly about credit cards and mortgages. The site will soon include questions regarding other consumer financial products, like auto loans, checking accounts and prepaid cards.
The questions range from the basic — What’s the difference between a mortgage lender and a servicer? — to the incredibly specific — I am a stay-at-home parent and was turned down for a credit card based on my income even though my spouse and I share our income and expenses. How can this be?. The answers are clear and concise, and the Bureau even takes input on their answers, Buzzfeed-style. Instead of “LOL” “Fail” and “OMG” however, the CFPB limits users to flagging posts as “Helpful,” “Too long,” “Confusing” and “Incorrect.”
The answers are to-the-point, and free of the distractions that many other websites that turn up in search results might introduce — credit card offers, SEO links, and the like. The federal government is pretty well fact-checked. After all, they helped write the rules.
People who cannot find their question answered can submit their own for consideration. The questions are answered by the CFPB’s “subject-matter experts,” according to the press release. MyBankTracker contacted the CFPB for clarification on what this means, but has yet to receive a response.
Financial products, like many consumer products, often intentionally obfuscate their terms to minimize perceived downside for prospective buyers. Some might argue that misunderstandings about financial products precipitated our current recession. Borrowers misunderstood the terms of their loans; investors misunderstood the securities they were buying. In between these two groups were the banks, which have a vested interest in keeping their industry relatively obscure. We’re now quite familiar with the end result.
That’s not to say the CFPB’s new semi-interactive site will not stem any brewing economic troubles. But at the very least, the government is helping clarify the ins and outs of the tremendously confusing, irregularly-regulated industry they have helped create.