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Jeannie Bowers was shocked when more than $7,700 vanished in March from a joint TCF Bank checking account she held with her daughter.

At first, Bowers said, the bank told her that her daughter had withdrawn the money. But on further investigation, she found that TCF had unilaterally moved it to cover bounced checks and fees for non-sufficient funds in her daughter’s individual account.

Bowers wrote complaint letters to both TCF and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal watchdog created in the wake of the Great Recession to guard consumers from deceptive practices by financial institutions.

A few weeks later, TCF refunded $7,752.45. It declined to comment on the case.

“It was by accident that I found out the money had been transferred,” Bowers said. The refund “never, ever would have happened without the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.”

Bowers is one of more than 8,000 consumers in Minnesota who have filed complaints with the bureau since it began operations in 2011, and more than 1,800 of them got some form of relief. But the bureau has also attracted criticism from Republicans, who say it abuses its power and doesn’t give financial institutions due process.

In March, Jeannie Bowers was shocked to find more than $7,700 missing from a joint TCF Bank checking account that she held with her daughter. TCF transferred the 74-year-old widow’s funds without her knowledge or permission to her daughter’s individual account to cover overdrafts. Here Bowers held the document that she received from TCF.
In March, Jeannie Bowers was shocked to find more than $7,700 missing from a joint TCF Bank checking account that she held with her daughter. TCF transferred the 74-year-old widow’s funds without her knowledge or permission to her daughter’s individual account to cover overdrafts. Here Bowers held the document that she received from TCF.

Now a fierce debate is underway over whether to restructure the CFPB, or perhaps eliminate it.

“American consumers need competitive markets and a cop on the beat to protect them from fraud and deception,” House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said at a hearing last month. Instead, the bureau acts as “legislator, prosecutor, judge and jury all rolled into one.”

Republican ideas to improve the CFPB include changing its governance and funding, restricting some of its activities or making it easier to challenge them in court, and changing its director into a political appointment instead of an independent overseer.

Republican Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, a member of the Financial Services Committee, said changes are needed to make the bureau’s operation more “transparent and accountable.”

“The concept is just fine,” Emmer said. “The operation has not been meeting the mission in my mind.”

A Star Tribune analysis of 731,655 complaints posted on the CFPB website shows that at least one in five consumers obtain some kind of relief, including 7 percent who recover improper fees or other financial restitution.

Wells Fargo drew the most complaints in the state, followed by…