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Consumer Reports urges Citibank to improve relief for struggling borrowers

CR analysis finds Citibank makes up nearly 37 percent of consumer complaints to the CFPB on credit cards during the COVID-19 pandemic 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports called on Citibank today to improve the relief it provides borrowers hurt by the current economic crisis in light of a new CR analysis that found the bank topped the list of COVID-19-related complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about credit cards.  The complaints filed against Citibank range from inflexible late fees and interest charges to outright refusals to accommodate customer requests for assistance.

In a letter sent to Citibank, Consumer Reports called on it to do more to publicize the relief available to struggling borrowers, ensure that its customer service representatives follow those policies, and provide additional protections to help those impacted by the economic downturn get back on track financially.

“Millions of Americans have suddenly lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and desperately need relief,” said Syed Ejaz, policy analyst for Consumer Reports.  “Our review of consumer complaints found that Citibank is failing to consistently provide assistance to those who need it despite the bank’s stated policies.  Citibank’s practices are particularly egregious during a time of severe hardship when so many families have been pushed beyond the brink financially.”

Consumer Reports reviewed 456 coronavirus-related complaints regarding credit cards submitted to the CFPB between March 16 and May 20, 2020 and found that Citibank accounted for 168 or nearly 37 percent of those complaints.  That is four times as much as Synchrony Bank, which had the second highest number of complaints during that period with 40 (8.8 percent), and Capital One, which had the third highest number of complaints with 38 (8.3 percent)

CR found a number of complaints involving consumers who could not get late fees and minimum payment requirements waived, despite Citibank’s stated policy that it would provide such relief for two months for those seeking assistance. Numerous consumers complained that Citibank’s customer support staff was unhelpful, inflexible, and uninformed about the help that is available.

Consumer Reports urged Citibank to follow through on their promises to do the following:

  • Clearly and prominently state on websites, in customer correspondence (including bills), and mobile apps the specific types of help and assistance available to customers adversely affected by COVID-19, what it takes to qualify, and the process for enrolling in such help.
  • Make an attestation of hardship the only requirement to access relief.
  • After receiving inquiries or questions, let customers know when they can expect a response.

In addition to offering clear, visible information about its relief programs, CR called on Citibank to adopt these other consumer relief policies:  

  • Report any consumer with an accommodation as current to credit reporting agencies.
  • Automatically waive all late fees and other penalties for the duration of the crisis and for at least 180 days after.
  • Offer consumers manageable paths to repayment based on their ability to repay rather than calling the entire account due when the forbearance period ends
  • Refrain from reporting consumers who are unable to resume payments after relief ends to debt collectors for at least one year after the declared emergency ends
  • Automatically enroll consumers in forbearance or other relief programs when the account becomes 30 days delinquent.
  • Provide consumers with links to government resources for consumers whose finances are impacted by the pandemic.

“Nobody should face unnecessary financial hardship as a result of this unprecedented public health and economic emergency,” said Ejaz.  “All lenders and loan servicers should adopt these policies and provide consumers with the relief they need to get through this crisis.”

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537