It can be hard to fathom just how intertwined Americans' lives are with the country's financial industry. About 178 million Americans have at least one credit card, according to the Federal Reserve. Forty percent of adults under the age of 30 are paying off student loans. A record 107 million (43 percent) of adults have car loans. And about 80 percent of American adults have a credit score. The safety of the financial products that these hundreds of millions of Americans use fall under the purview of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Prior to the founding of the CFPB, disputes between individual customers and their banks could be daunting and expensive pursuits. The financial industry has never been known for its transparency or accessibility, and banks managed to sneak all types of dangerous, expensive, or exploitative provisions into the fine print of contracts on everything from credit-card applications to mortgages. The subprime-debt crisis highlights just how badly that can turn out for everyone. While state-level consumer protections existed and banks were regulated by entities such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the CFPB was the first federal regulator to take a critical look at such a wide variety of banking practices with an eye toward fairness and protection of consumers above all else.