CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Consumer protection advocates spent time in Charleston in December, hoping to drum up support to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau strong in the next administration.
“We’re calling on our legislators to protect it,” Woody Little, a campaign organizer with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), said.
“Get out there and really make sure that they are representing our interest in Congress and not just big Wall Street banks.”
In particular, Little said he wants the CFPB well-protected, well-funded, and well-staffed in order to better regulate bank overdraft fees.
“Overdraft fees are high, as a lot of consumers know,” he said. “You end up going to a coffee shop trying to get a $2 cup of coffee and you end up paying a $35 overdraft fee, and a lot of times you didn’t even know you signed up for it.”
Little said there were major concerns about banks that aren’t regulated by the CFPB–particularly about practices that can allow a marked increase in overdraft fees.
“That’s one of the really insidious things,” he said. “People often times don’t know that those are the rules cause the rules don’t make sense. They end up paying a lot more in fees than they should be.”
The U.S. PIRG, an independent, non-partisan consumer advocate, estimates that the average consumer is unnecessarily spending hundreds of dollars each year on overdraft fees.
“Folks can go there and just think through, ‘Do I actually even want this overdraft protection? Is it a waste of money?'” he said. “People end up paying a couple hundred dollars often, so we do recommend folks take a second look at it.”
One of the major concerns moving forward is that Congress will pass legislation that changes the leadership structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by moving from a single director to a five-person committee and then “stacking the deck” in favor of industry.
“There are a number of attacks that we are seeing,” Little said. “So we are really calling on Congress members to hold the line and not fall in with the Wall Street interests and special interests who are lobbying them.”
The U.S. PIRG estimates Wall Street banks spend close to $1.5 billion every year on lobbying.