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The Supreme Court ruled to protect the CFPB. Here's why it matters for your money

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

We start this hour with a recent Supreme Court decision that paves the way for a little-known government agency to continue its work - the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It's known as the CFPB, and it acts as a watchdog for consumers by regulating credit card companies, mortgage lenders, and other financial institutions. If the court had decided against the bureau, all of its actions over its 13-year-long history might have been undone. The director of the CFPB, Rohit Chopra, joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ROHIT CHOPRA: Thanks for having me.

KEITH: So what is it about the way your agency is funded that made the plaintiffs in this case challenge it as unconstitutional? And I guess, what is your funding structure that's going to continue going forward now?

CHOPRA: Well, the CFPB is funded a lot like other financial regulators. We're part of the federal reserve system, but here's why they pushed back. There's lots of lobbyists and big financial companies who want to protect their profits even when they exploit consumers. And that's really what we put a stop to. So it's no surprise they push back on us.

KEITH: Your agency grew out of the Great Recession, as a response to the Great Recession. Do you think that the average consumer's life is different than it was before because of things that the CFPB has done? Do you think people know about it?

CHOPRA: Financial crisis really devastated not just the global economy but the financial futures of so many families in America. What we saw in the lead-up was reckless risk taking, law breaking and bad practices that were a race to the bottom. The CFPB has really put a stop to a lot of that, and we put into place so many common-sense protections. So I do think families across the country have really benefited from our work. We receive over 200,000 consumer complaints each month. We've gotten back so much money for people in every state of the country.

KEITH: What does the CFPB do? What aspects of, say, my financial life does the CFPB touch?

CHOPRA: Most of your monthly bills are related to debt usually - your mortgage payment, your credit card, your auto loan, your student loan. We are the cop on the beat to make sure that financial companies are not engaged in misconduct and exploitation. We did a study of overdraft fees and found that companies were charging three or four overdraft fees in a single day when a consumer might have just expected one. We're proposing soon a ban on medical debt parked on people's credit reports. We're going to be looking for ways that there are new scams and frauds taking advantage of people and making sure we can put a stop to it.

KEITH: And before you existed, was no one doing this? How were people protected?

CHOPRA: Well, here's what happened. There was a whole panoply of agencies and regulators responsible for bits and pieces of consumer protection. But no agency was on the hook, and no one really made it a priority.

KEITH: One of your recent rules that's been tied up in the courts caps late fees for credit card payments at $8. But banks say that that cap will punish people who actually do pay their balances on time because they'll be forced to raise interest rates across the board. What's your response to that?

CHOPRA: That's a lot of lobbyist talking points. Here's the truth. The law is pretty clear. You got to make those penalties reasonable and proportional to when a consumer doesn't meet their end of the bargain. So what we've done is we've said, if you're charging above $8, show us the math that it's reasonable and we think this is going to help so many people see the true price upfront rather than having credit card issuers hide a lot of fees on the back end.

KEITH: Come January, there could be a change of administration. And last time that former President Trump was in office, he appointed a CFPB director who openly questioned the mission of the agency and tried to cut its budget to zero. So do you see yourself in a race to lock in rules and policies now before any potential leadership change?

CHOPRA: Well, I want to make every single day count. We had so many of our lawsuits put on pause during the pendency of this Supreme Court case. Now that the CFPB has prevailed, those prosecutions, those trials, they can continue. And every single day that justice is delayed means big losses for the victims of those crimes.

KEITH: Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB. Thank you for coming in.

CHOPRA: Thank you so much, Tam.

KEITH: We reached out for comment to the organization representing payday lenders that's behind the Supreme Court case. It said its members continue to believe that the CFPB has imposed rules that threaten access to credit and harm the millions of American consumers who rely on small dollar loans to manage budget shortfalls. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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