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Editorial: Richard Cordray finally in the consumer’s corner

President Barack Obama, left, listens as Richard Cordray, right, the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 17, 2013. The Senate voted on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, to end a two-year Republican blockade that was preventing Cordray from winning confirmation as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Barack Obama, left, listens as Richard Cordray, right, the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 17, 2013. The Senate voted on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, to end a two-year Republican blockade that was preventing Cordray from winning confirmation as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Purchase photo reprints »

People hold a low opinion of the U.S. Congress, but look favorably on one of its creations, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A national poll found that eight in 10 Americans support the work of the agency created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. And still, when that poll was taken in early July, the bureau’s director remained in limbo, two years after he was nominated by President Obama.

That changed last week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened Senate Republicans with something they hate even more than containing financial industry excesses — losing their filibuster power.

The administration had to pay for progress by withdrawing two National Labor Relations Board nominees who, like Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general now confirmed at the consumer bureau, had been “recess appointments.” The 66-34 vote to confirm Cordray July 16 clears up uncertainty about the legality of the bureau’s work and is a win for all Americans.

Cordray now carries forward the work envisioned, in large part, by Elizabeth Warren. She had to step away from consideration as director because Republicans in the Senate rightly saw her as a foe of the games big banks play to separate working people from their money, one fine-print maneuver after another.

Here are ways the bureau has been serving the American people so far:

• Come January, new rules will clean up practices in the mortgage industry that held the potential to bring on another housing debt crisis. Lenders must verify a borrower’s ability to repay loans and stop the use of deceptive “teaser” interest rates.

• The bureau has managed to get credit card companies to return $432 million to customers who fell victim to fraudulent practices. That includes an $85 million settlement with American Express for deceptive and discriminatory marketing and billing.

• Take a look at your latest credit card statement. Right there in print, you’ll see what it will cost you if you make a minimum payment, compared with how much you will save if you pay more. That’s information the companies don’t want to share, because they profit so handsomely. The bureau insisted on it.

• So far, an estimated 125,000 people have used the bureau’s complaint system to resolve problems with banks, credit bureaus and debt collectors. In a recent report, the bureau outlined examples of the kinds of problems its staff tackles for everyday Americans.

A 77-year-old veteran named Ronald thought he had paid his mortgage in full in 2007, then got a notice from his bank saying he still owed on it. The bureau found he’d overpaid and secured a settlement that paid him $30,000 in refunds and interest. A woman named Nelda contacted the bureau to say her credit card company was refusing to cancel $2,000 in fraudulent charges. A debt collector had taken the 67-year-old clerk to court. The bureau’s investigators made the company clear the debt and call off the dogs.

• A common, and alarming, sight on college campuses these days are posters pushing credit cards. The bureau has conducted a probe into such marketing that uncovered undisclosed deals companies have made with schools to offer up unwitting students as borrowers.

As it moves forward with a confirmed leader, the bureau plans to take on payday lending — long known to take advantage of people who have no other access to small, short-term loans. In an April report, the bureau noted that an annual rate of 391 percent is typical on a 14-day loan.

The bureau will also tackle excessive overdraft fees and devise ways to regulate credit reporting agencies, debt collectors and reverse mortgages.

We hear a lot these days about hard-to-grasp Wall Street inventions that produce fabulous profits. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau exists to help people not be taken for a ride when engaging in simple transactions that unscrupulous lenders wish to appear complicated.

To make use of the bureau’s services, visit www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint and follow easy-to-read instructions.

One silver lining of the obstructionist confirmation process is that it led to Warren running for the Senate in Massachusetts. Last week, 17 Republicans joined with two independents and all Senate Democrats to confirm Cordray. Warren was one of those Democrats and is sure to remain an outspoken advocate of consumer protection, and a tough adversary for all in the chamber who tried for so long to sideline a consumer champion they never wanted.

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