The Financial Restitution Gap in Consumer Finance: Insights from Complaints Filed with the CFPB

Charlotte Haendler and Rawley Heimer

Consumers seek restitution for disputed financial services by filing complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). We find that filings from low-socioeconomic (i.e., low-income and African American) zip codes were 30% less likely to be resolved with the consumer receiving financial restitution. At the same time, low- and high-socioeconomic zip codes submitted an equal share of the CFPB complaints. The socioeconomic gap in financial restitution was scarcely present under the Obama administration, but grew substantially under the Trump administration. We attribute the change in financial restitution under different political regimes to companies anticipating a more industry-friendly CFPB, as well as to the more industry-friendly leadership of the CFPB achieving less financial restitution for low-socioeconomic filers. The financial restitution gap cannot be explained by differences in product usage nor the quality of complaints, which we measure using textual analysis.