Now that President Obama has appointed Richard Cordray as director of the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency has ramped up its efforts to investigate and spotlight Americans' complaints about credit card issuers. The CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission released a memorandum of understanding about how the two government offices will collaborate on rulemaking, prosecution, and conflict resolution between banks and borrowers.

Under the terms of the Dodd-Frank Act that established the Bureau, the CFPB and the FTC must agree to avoid "double-teaming" businesses with overlapping investigations. The agencies also agreed to cooperate on future consumer education programs, avoiding the potential for competing public information campaigns. The agreement opens the door for complaints filed at one agency to spawn investigations from another, with the FTC continuing its prosecutorial role while CFPB solicits more raw information from consumers about questionable business practices.

Credit card complaint database stirs industry debate

The CFPB's growing database of credit card complaints has drawn attention from banking industry lobbyists, who want assurance that consumer information won't end up part of the public record. At, the Bureau hosts a complaint form that asks consumers to detail information about problems they've had with credit card applications or customer service. The Bureau assigns tracking numbers for each complaint, submits the details to credit card issuers, then reviews whether banks have satisfactorily resolved the issue.

Until now, the CFPB has reported on complaint trends without revealing details specific to individual banks. For instance, in a November report, the CFPB stated that many complaints stem from misunderstandings about how credit card features work, compared to how they were marketed. However, the Dodd-Frank Act gives the Bureau's Director authority to determine how to share complaint details. The CFPB has solicited public comment on a proposal to publish complaint details in an online database, stripping out consumer information while revealing the names of banks involved.

Consumer advocates, such as nonprofit OMB Watch, have championed the database proposal as an opportunity to hold credit card issuers accountable for mistakes or for deliberate bad actions. Eleven members of Congress signed a letter stating that the transparency of complaint details would help consumers make better financial choices. Meanwhile, lobbying groups like the National Association of Federal Credit Unions have openly fought the proposal, explaining that improperly filed complaints could put credit card issuers' reputations at risk. The public comment period on the proposal closed on Jan. 30.