WASHINGTON — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is taking aim at marketplace lenders, announcing Monday that it is accepting complaints about the developing industry and releasing a bulletin to inform the public about such firms.
The agency's latest move is a possible prelude to more formal regulation of online lenders, as the CFPB often uses the complaints it receives to determine where the trouble spots are in a particular area. Complaints about payday lending, for example, have helped inform the agency's pending plan to rein in such products.
"When consumers shop for a loan online we want them to be informed and to understand what they are signing up for," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a press release. "All lenders, from online startups to large banks, must follow consumer financial protection laws. By accepting these consumer complaints, we are giving people a greater voice in these markets and a place to turn to when they encounter problems."
The action is the second one in less than a week by the CFPB related to the nimble fintech startups that have been nipping away at various parts of banks' business. Last week the agency hit the startup payment processor Dwolla for a $100,000 fine for allegedly deceiving customers about its data security policies. Bankers sometimes complain that fintech companies constitute unfair competition because they are more lightly regulated.
In its bulletin, the CFPB defined marketplace, or peer-to-peer, lenders as firms that use an online platform to connect consumers or businesses seeking to borrow money with investors willing to buy or invest in the loan.
It emphasized to consumers that marketplace lenders are required to follow all federal and state consumer protection laws. It also specifically warned them that while some marketplace lenders advertise lower interest rates, consumers could "lose important protections" by refinancing a debt.
"Specifically, consumers should know that they may sign away certain federal benefits, such as income-driven repayment for federal student loans or servicemember benefits related to debt incurred prior to entering active duty," the CFPB said in its press release.
The bulletin urged consumers to evaluate how much they could afford and what they really needed to borrow, check their credit reports and shop around to multiple lenders or brokers.