It’s probably too early to turn to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new website, consumerfinance.gov, for solutions and advice related to your personal financial choices. But there’s never been a better time to check out the site if you want to influence what it eventually will look like.
The website is being designed as a plain-English soup-to-nuts consumer guide for everything from student loans to retirement income. So far, the CFPB has managed to put up some good information on mortgages, credit cards and student debt. But it’s all subject to change, and the bureau hopes you’ll weigh in.
The CFPB is especially concerned with disclosure rules for now, Gail Hillebrand, associate director of the Consumer Education and Engagement Division, said last month. “We want to make sure the consumer is getting good information in the marketplace,” she said at the Financial Literacy and Education Summit 2012 in Chicago. “We want the stuff that is most important to pop out.” And add context—like, say, the cost of this loan would be equal to buying a new laptop each month.
That’s a worthy goal. Who can decipher the many pages of fine print in a credit card agreement or mortgage application? Wouldn’t it be great if the important stuff were in large type? There’s only so much the CFPB can require. But any simplification would be a good thing. You can help by going to the website and clicking on “tell your story” or “submit a complaint.”
“First, we need a better marketplace,” Hillebrand said. “We want to unleash the power of informed consumer choice.” What works? What doesn’t? The CFPB has already simplified its model mortgage document, responding to comments that the earlier version was too complicated. This is all an extension of work being done by the Federal Task Force on Smart Disclosure, which was authorized last summer with the mission of organizing consumer information in a way that helps individuals make smarter money decisions.
One key theme running throughout the Summit, where Hillebrand spoke, was that less is more when it comes to educating individuals about personal finance. For example, the mechanics of compound interest aren’t all that important if you can just teach young people that it is good to start saving early. It’s also critical to reach people at the point of purchase.
As the CFPB develops its consumer site—with your help—it plans to refine sections on student loans, mortgages and credit cards before moving on to other issues. It’s not often that you have the chance to help shape the delivery of information that will help you most. Might as well log on and say what’s on your mind.