Adjusting to a new country’s financial system takes time

I had a worry-free life before I came to the United States. I lived with my parents and grandparents. I had a job and was paid in cash. I divided my pay into three equal portions. One-third went to Grandma as my contribution to household expenses. One-third went to my mother, who saved the money for me. The last one-third? I spent every penny of it.

When I came to the United States, I went directly to a university for a master’s program. The university provided boarding and a scholarship. I had a sheltered life during the two years in the program. My finances were simple and the university had guidance counselors who were willing to help. All I had to do was to open a checking account at the bank branch on campus and all my financial needs were met.

Two years passed quickly, and I was very fortunate to land a job after graduation. That’s when my finances became complicated, and I started to realize how little I knew about the U.S. financial services system and products. Renting an apartment, paying bills, managing savings, and sending money abroad were all new to me. I made a lot of bad choices, which resulted in a lot of small and unnecessary financial losses. I asked my friends for help, but many times, their advice turned out to be wrong and misleading.

Meanwhile, my financial needs seemed to evolve every day. My purchases became bigger and I needed to use credit cards, my savings got bigger and I wanted to invest, and eventually I decided to buy an apartment and needed a mortgage. In most cases, I walked into the bank where I opened the checking account when I arrived in the United States and took the first product they recommended. Looking back, I wish I had had more unbiased sources of information so I could have made smarter choices.

Are you an immigrant like me? If so, check out the Newcomer’s Guides to Managing Money, and learn how to pay bills, receive money, open a bank account, and compare financial products. The information is extremely useful to new immigrants. I have been living in the United States for more than 25 years, and I still find some of the information helpful.


Do You Have a Complaint about a Bank or Credit Card Company?

If you have been mistreated by a bank of credit card company, or have had difficulties resolving an issue it is in your best interest as a consumer to initiate a consumer complain with the federal agency regulating the financial institution in question.  While it may feel like a waste of time to do so, be assured that every complaint submitted by a consumer does make a difference.

The first step in filing a complaint about a bank or credit card company is figuring out where and how to submit it. There are a variety of agencies that regulate financial institutions and figuring out which agency to contact can be a challenge.

Two easy ways to determine who to contact are listed below:

  • The FDIC has published an easy-to-use, searchable database of financial institutions. This online tool will provide you with the primary regulator you should contact, as well as other useful information. >>Visit the FDIC Institution Directory now.
  • If are still unsure, or are not able to access the FDIC’s database, call the Office of the Comptroller’s  Customer Assistance Group at 1-800-613-6743. Their representatives are there to help consumers like you find out the correct agency to contact with a question or complaint. The Federal Reserve can also assist with this. You can reach them toll-free at 888-851-1920.

Some of the possible agencies you will be reaching out to include:

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – The OCC regulates national banks, federal savings associations and thrifts. This is the agency you want to contact if the financial institution’s name includes the words “National Bank” or “N.A.” or against a credit card issued through a national bank such as Chase, KeyBank, National City Bank or Huntington Bank.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau – On July 21, 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the Bureau) took over responsibility for handling certain consumer complaints against the nation’s largest financial institutions. To learn more about the Bureau and its responsibilities, click here.

The FDIC – Regulates state chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve system. The FDIC’s Consumer Response Center is responsible for investigating all types of consumer complaints about FDIC-supervised institutions and responding to consumer inquiries about consumer laws and regulations. You may call and speak to a Consumer Affairs Specialist about your concerns. However, in order for them to investigate or review your issues, they must receive your complaint in writing.

The National Credit Union Administration – the NCUA regulates federal and state-chartered credit unions.


Submitting Your Complaint

1. Prepare the information the financial institution will need to take action.  

A complaint must include, at a minimum, your name, address and account information.  You will also want to include your phone number and/or e-mail address for future communications. In your complaint, include a detailed description of what occurred and explain why the situation is unsatisfactory. Whenever possible specify dates and names of any company representatives you may have dealt with.

2. Gather documentation or evidence

Be sure to have any backup documentation , such as a monthly statement from the bank or your loan agreement, or any evidence needed to prove your claim. The burden of proof will inevitably be on you. Also include a detailed description of how you want the company to resolve the issue. Be as specific as possible. Include as much as you can with your initial complaint.

3. Submit and Follow-Up

Once you have written the most thorough complaint possible, submit it using the recommended method(s) specified by the agency. Keep a copy for your personal records. Be sure to follow up with the agency if you do not hear back from them within 2-5 business days.

Some helpful tips:

  • If you are dealing with a state bank, be aware that the bank may also fall under the supervision of a state banking regulator.
  • In addition to submitting your complaint with the regulating agency, we also suggest you submit one via the Better Business Bureau.

Save the date, Springfield!

Join us for an event in Springfield, Va., about financial management for seniors and their caregivers. You can watch a livestream of the event on our blog.

The event will take place on Monday, August 17 at 1 p.m. EDT at:

Greenspring (a senior living community)
Village Square Theater
7410 Spring Village Drive
Springfield, VA. 22150

The event will feature remarks from Director Richard Cordray and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. Financial caregiving experts will be on-hand to answer questions.

This event is open to the public, but limited space is available and an RSVP is required. Send us an email to RSVP.

If you need an accommodation to participate, you can make a request.

See you there!


CFPB Participates in 2015 National Day of Civic Hacking

Coders, technology enthusiasts, economists, teachers, high school students, and entrepreneurs joined representatives from eight government agencies for the third annual National Day of Civic Hacking on June 6. During this collaborative event, a diverse group of citizens worked together to tackle complex problems facing our communities using technology and publicly released data.

CFPB participated in multiple National Day of Civic Hacking events this year, with CFPB staff attending events in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Oakland, Calif. and Burlington, Vt. During the event, participants provided input on our CFPB Owning a Home website and analyzed our public Consumer Complaint Database and our public Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) Database.

Kimberly Munoz, a front-end web developer, participated in one of Oakland’s many events, contributing to the OpenOakland project. She also introduced participants with a data science background to the CFPB public Consumer Complaint Database in hopes of inspiring more grassroots use of the CFPB’s open data.

Catherine Farman, a front-end developer, attended Code for Philly’s event. Catherine is working on our Owning a Home project to convert a budgeting PDF to a web application that is flexible and is able to fit in any screen.

We hope to connect with other communities interested in engaging with our public databases. We believe there are opportunities for coders, developers, and others with strong technical prowess to build innovative tools and applications that can enable consumers to live better financial lives.

Got a cool data project to share? Just tweet at @cfpb with #CFPBdata.


Americans with disabilities have the right to improve their financial lives

ROADS participant shares his financial goals and dreams for achieving greater independence at our ROADS launch event.

A ROADS participant shares his financial goals and dreams for achieving greater independence at our ROADS launch event.

Michael, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, left the military with service-connected disabilities from injuries sustained while on active duty, and little knowledge of how finances work in a non-military world.

“I had no idea what a housing security deposit was,” Michael said. “The fact I had to pay vehicle taxes was a complete shock and the thought of investing in my financial future was foreign to me.”

For Michael, like many other veterans, transitioning back to civilian life while living with a disability was a challenge.

Twenty-five years ago this month, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that every American could participate fully in public life regardless of a disability. Despite much progress, Americans with disabilities continue to face significant obstacles when working to become financially secure.

According to recent studies, Americans with disabilities disproportionately live in poverty; are more than twice as likely to use nonbank financial services such as payday loans and check cashing; and 80 percent have no emergency savings to absorb a financial shock.

Michael is one of 57 million Americans living with a disability. They are our heroes, friends, neighbors, relatives, and coworkers. Americans with disabilities, like all consumers, have the right to fair treatment in the financial marketplace and access to tools that can help them improve their financial lives. Many people living with disabilities who are working or transitioning into the workforce can benefit from financial counseling services to improve their financial lives.

The CFPB was created to protect and empower consumers in America. That’s why we launched the ROADS (Reach Outcomes. Achieve Dreams. Succeed) to Financial Independence Initiative. This first-of-its-kind national initiative provides participating consumers with financial counseling services to help them improve their credit scores, reduce debt, and increase personal savings.

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael and other individuals with disabilities at our ROADS launch last month. Listening to their personal stories inspired me, and made me see the importance of providing consumers with tools, resources, and support to help overcome financial obstacles.

Today, Michael serves as a conduit for veterans with disabilities to ROADS financial counselors who provide guidance to consumers who need it most. “I understand from firsthand experience,” Michael said, “the value of a program that educates people with disabilities, including veterans, on how to obtain financial independence.”

Americans with disabilities cut across race, gender, age and geography. Our goal is to take lessons learned through ROADS to help us improve the financial well-being of all consumers.

Join us in spreading the word about ROADS to Financial Independence as we celebrate the Bureau’s fourth anniversary and the ADA’s 25th anniversary this month. Reach out to us at Empowerment@consumerfinance.gov for more information on ROADS. You can also learn about other tools to empower communities on the CFPB’s Office of Financial Empowerment webpage.