When U.S. officials began collecting consumer complaints about credit cards, one goal was to identify patterns that could help them write rules protecting families with low and moderate incomes.
Nearly two years later, it’s the well-to-do neighborhoods of Florida and New York that are supplying the most grievances to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an analysis of agency data shows.
Of the top four zip codes contributing to the 18,539 complaints published as of March 18, two are on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and two in south Florida -- Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens. Almost 60 percent of complaints originated in zip codes where the median household income is higher than the national median of $52,762, according to the analysis.
The firms cited most often in the disputes are some of the biggest card issuers: Capital One Financial Corp., Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and GE Capital Retail Bank, a unit of General Electric Co.
The consumer bureau, established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, started collecting complaints about credit cards in July 2011 and works with financial companies to resolve them. The agency has since opened the system to other products including mortgages, bank accounts, student loans and vehicle loans.
Richard Cordray, the agency’s director, will hold a hearing on the complaint system tomorrow in Des Moines, Iowa. He said on March 12 that the bureau has received more than 130,000 complaints of all types.
“Through our consumer response operation, we have helped return millions of dollars to consumers and have addressed many problems that had been frustrating your constituents for months or even years,” Cordray told lawmakers.
The bureau will expand the system this year to collect complaints about other financial services, such as short-term loans and debt collection, and will publish more of the data, according to two people briefed on the issue who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren’t public.
Only the lists of credit-card complaints have been posted on the bureau’s website. The records don’t give the names of those filing complaints or reproduce their comments. The bureau data includes the customer’s zip code, the bank issuing the card, the nature of the dispute and how it was resolved. Bloomberg News compared the data with information from the U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks income by zip code.
Zip codes with median annual household incomes higher than the national median generated 11,045 complaints, or 59.6 percent of the total, the data show. Boca Raton zip code 33496 produced 94 complaints, the most in the country, while 54 complaints came from Manhattan’s Upper West Side zip codes 10023 and 10024 combined.
Prosperous people “can often get upset over small amounts of money. You find these people with a huge net worth worrying about a $3 fee,” said Steven Ramirez, the chief executive of Beyond the Arc Inc., a Berkeley, California-based consulting firm that uses the consumer bureau’s system to help companies improve customer service.
Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who set up the bureau before she won a seat in the U.S. Senate, said in March 2011 congressional testimony that the focus on credit cards was meant to help millions of borrowers who use them “to pay for medical expenses, to cover educational costs, to tide them over during a period of unemployment, to cover emergency expenses, or simply to make it to the end of the month.”