By

If you've ever had a problem with your credit card and thought complaining about it wouldn't do any good, you're in for a surprise. This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) launched the beta version of its Consumer Complaint Database, which allows the public to see just what sorts of issues regular consumers are having with their credit cards.

“Each and every time we hear from American consumers about their troublesome transactions with financial products, it gives us important insight,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a press release. “The information helps us and it should be available to help others too. By making our data publicly available, initially in the area of credit cards, we hope to improve the transparency and efficiency of this essential consumer market.”

Under the terms of the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB is tasked with receiving consumer credit card complaints. According to the CPFB website, when a complaint comes into the bureau, a CFPB Consumer Response intake specialist reviews it for "completeness, jurisdiction, and non-duplication." Those that pass this initial screening are forwarded to the appropriate company, such as a bank, card issuer, or nonbank, for it to review and respond.

The CFPB requires companies to respond within 15 days and resolve and close most complaints within 60 days. The CFPB gives a little leeway in that timeframe if the complaint is extremely complicated. Companies may close complaints in four different ways: with monetary relief, without monetary relief, with an explanation, or closing the account. By non-monetary relief, the CFPB includes actions like changing account terms or a report to a credit bureau. The company also has the right to choose whether or not it will explain its decision.

Consumers can track the progress of their complaint through the CFPB's website. They're also allowed to dispute the proposed resolution of the financial institution.

The database tells when and how the complaint was received, as well as which ZIP code it originated from. Due to privacy protection measures, it does not tie a complaint to a specific consumer. The database notes what the consumer's issue was, such as problems with closing or cancelling a card, billing disputes, collection practices, APR or interest rate issues, identity theft, late fees, customer service problems and other topics. It also details which credit card issuer the consumer's dealing with, when the complaint was sent to it, the company's response, whether or not the response was timely and if the consumer disputed the final outcome.

The CFPB's policy statement about the database says, "Consumer groups, privacy groups, and consumers commented that the public database would help consumers make more informed decisions and avoid 'bad actors.'" With the data, consumers would be able to draw their own conclusions.

The policy statement also notes that opposition to the database, not surprisingly, came from members of the credit card industry, who claimed to endorse the intended goals of the system but believed that unverified data would confuse and mislead consumers and give credit card issuers bad reputations.

The CFPB's response is that while consumers may come to incorrect conclusions about the data presented in the database, such is the case for any type of market data. The CFPB hopes that informing consumers and giving researchers the opportunity to uncover trends in the market will be more useful. The bureau has also taken measures to prevent various parties from manipulating the data.

Although the CFPB has been collecting these complaints for some time, the database only contains data going back to June 1, 2012 and contains just over 100 records. Over time, the data will begin to show trends, as the database is updated daily.

This database currently only contains data about credit cards, but the CFPB hopes to expand this product to the other consumer financial products and services the bureau tracks, including mortgages and student loans.

The CFPB plans for the database to stay in beta mode throughout the summer and will tweak its look, feel, and functionality during this time. It's exploring adding more data fields that will provide more narrative information about the complaints, but the bureau is trying to figure out how to do this while keeping identifying consumer information private.

Once the beta test is finished and the product is fully rolled out, the CFPB will add the historical information it's captured before June first.