Zixta Martinez made one thing clear as she spoke Monday night about the federal government's new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
"Credit is not a bad thing by itself," said Martinez, who is assistant director for the CFPB's office of community affairs. "Credit is a good thing ... but we want to make sure it is being done in a responsible way."
Speaking during a public forum at Oakland Community College Orchard Ridge in Farmington Hills, she said her agency's vision is to make sure the financial industry is fair, transparent and competitive when it comes to dealing with consumers. Engagement with consumers is a "cornerstone" their work, Martinez added.
Less than a year old, the CFPB is the first federal agency solely devoted to consumer financial protection. In addition to enforcing consumer proection laws with consumer financial businesses, the agency can offer information and help to people who are struggling with credit issues.
"Sometimes, good people make bad decisions," Martinez said, especially when a serious illness or job loss occurs. "Folks don't want or expect a special favor. They just want a fair shake."
Demand rising for debt solutions
Greenpath Debt Solutions, a non-profit based in Farmington Hills, aims to help consumers get that fair shake, said company president and CEO Jane E. McNamara. She told attendees at Monday's forum that while the debt counseling agency saw a lull last year, "demand for our services has picked up" as consumers are being offered more credit.
Thanks to relationships developed with credit card companies, Greenpath is able to negotiate terms and set up repayment plans. McNamara warned about "debt settlement" companies alleging in advertisements that agencies like Greenpath are owned by credit card companies.
"That is not true," she said, adding, "If you hear ads that say we can help you reduce the amount you owe, be wary ... When we owe money, we have to repay it."
Other speakers included Melissa Seifer from AARP, who talked her organization's resources and about scams that prey on seniors; Marshall Hunt, director of the Accounting Aid Society Tax Assistance Program; and Gina Polley, representing the Legal Aid and Defender Association. The panel presentation was followed by a question and answer session and an informal reception, where attendees could get more specific information to address their needs.
Tiffani Hails of West Bloomfield left the event feeling more educated about the resources available to her. She said she came because, like many people, she's paying more on her mortgage than what her house is worth.
Hails said she did not know about the CFPB before attending the event, but would use the resources Martinez explained.
"I'm glad I came," she said. "It's not a solution to everything, but it's a start."
To learn more about the CFPB or to lodge a consumer finance-related complaint, visit consumerfinance.gov.