Feds Warn Colleges With Secret Credit Card Agreements

December 17, 2015

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sent warning letters Wednesday to 17 colleges that it says may be in violation of federal law for not disclosing agreements they have with credit card companies. The bureau declined, however, to name which institutions it investigated.

“As a matter of policy, we are not disclosing their identities, as the bureau does not comment on or confirm potential enforcement investigations,” CFPB spokeswoman Moira Vahey wrote in an email. “The purpose of these warning letters is to put these schools on notice that their practices may be violating the law, and that they need to carefully review their approach to public disclosure and bring it into compliance with the law.”

Colleges that have agreed to co-sponsor credit card accounts or partner with companies to market credit cards to students are required by law to either post contracts for these agreements on their websites or make them available upon request. However, when asked by the CFPB in a survey of 25 colleges, 17 did not provide their agreements. Twenty of the 25 did not make the agreements available online, either, though that is not illegal.

In a larger report on college credit card agreements, the CFPB found the number of agreements declined from 1,045 in 2009, when Congress passed the law boosting disclosure requirements, to only 272 in 2014. Money paid by credit card issuers to colleges also dropped from $84 million in 2009 to $34 million last year.

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