We need the government's new credit card complaint database

Assorted credit cards

One of the much-lauded functions of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is its credit card complaint portal.

Consumers can tell the agency, via an easy-to-use online form, about issues they've had with credit card companies regarding things like interest charges, customer service, late fees and collection practices.

This is a fantastic place to go when you can't get satisfaction from your card issuer.

After people make their complaints, the CFPB puts them into a database anyone can access.

The database doesn't include personal data, but it does list information about which card companies are the subject of complaints and why.

A complaint was lodged, for example, against Capital One on July 13 over "collection practices." That's all the pertinent information users see.

Pretty vague, huh?

That's why we don't recommend that you use the database, or at least spend a lot of time there.

There's very little the average consumer can glean by reading individual complaints.

The infographics it makes from the data are pretty, but still don't provide news you can use.

No, the real value in the database -- and why we need it -- is the information culled from it and put into reports like the one issued on June 19 that gave a snapshot of the data, including success stories of how the CFPB has helped people who were being financially wronged.

The government's financial watchdog reported that more than 2,000 of the 14,000 credit card complaints it had fielded resulted in a refund or payment to the consumer. The median payment was about $130.

One example given was Nelda, a 67-year-old data entry clerk from California, who was billed for $2,000 in credit card charges she never made. She reported the fraud to the card company, which failed to act and eventually sold the debt to a collection agency, which sued her.

"After the CFPB got involved, the card issuer accepted that the charges were fraudulent and agreed that Nelda was not responsible," the agency wrote.

Such reports are only going to get more useful the longer they collect complaints. This is about a year's worth of information. Think about what they'll be able to tell after two years or three.

So keep looking for these snapshot reports, and tell them if you're having trouble with a credit card company, too.

We'll all be better for it.