Has your credit card company ever made you so mad that you wanted to sue them in court? If so, you might have become even more furious when you found out that you aren't allowed to. That's because most consumer financial contracts bury deep down in the fine print a clause that requires you to use arbitration to resolve any disputes.
Before you blow a fuse, take note that Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has proposed a new regulation that will allow you to enter into a class action lawsuit against providers of credit cards, mortgages, personal loans and many other types of financial products and services. You still won't be permitted to sue them as an individual, but under the proposed change, you will be able to join with other irate consumers to file a class action suit in court.
Many consumers don't put a lot of faith in arbitration, in which supposedly neutral, non-judicial third parties hear your complaint and make a ruling. You don't have to be paranoid to fear that arbitrators, who are usually business executives and corporate lawyers, may have little empathy for consumers. After all, arbitration companies are hired by the people you have a beef against.
What kind of beefs are we talking about? They typically come in 3 flavors:
1. Debt workout problems: Let's face it, sometimes life hands you a setback that makes it hard to pay your bills. Loss of a job, sudden medical emergencies and other nasties can put a crimp in your cash flow. Some creditors may be willing to modify your debt repayments, like lowering your minimum credit card payments or even forgiving a part of a mortgage. But many financial service providers are unwilling to even consider your requests for help, much less do anything about them.
2. Payment processing problems: Not all credit servicers are equally competent. They might lose track of your payments, misapply extra payments, fail to inform you when your account has been transferred to a new servicer, or find some other ways to stick you with higher interest payments and late fees.
3. Fraud: There are many ways to defraud a trusting consumer. One popular scam is to offer "credit repair" services, in which a company takes an upfront fee (which is a no-no) to supposedly jack up your credit score and get rid of black marks on your credit report.
A class-action suit only makes sense if the problems you've experienced at the hands of a company are also tormenting other customers. That can be a tough thing to prove, but at least you'll get the chance when the CFPB's new rules go into effect.
Right now, we are in the beginning of a 90-day comment period, in which consumer groups can voice their support and business groups can foam at the mouth about greedy trial lawyers. Based on the feedback it receives, the CFPB might tinker with its proposal before implementing the new regulations.