A $25 million penalty collected by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) last month is focusing attention on an aspect of the fledgling agency's powers that was long overlooked but now carries large political significance.

Whenever the bureau collects penalties from firms that violate consumer protection laws, those funds go into what's called the Civil Penalty Fund, which the agency can then use to compensate victims of fraud, as well as to fund consumer education and financial literacy programs.

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