In late August, Citibank began sending letters to its credit card and bank account customers allowing them to opt out of forced arbitration. Forced arbitration clauses, also called mandatory or predispute arbitration clauses, are usually buried in the fine print of lengthy contract agreements and limit your ability to take legal action against a company if you have a disagreement with it in the future.

These clauses, as we’ve previously reported, are in millions of consumer contracts. In addition to many financial products, they’re in the fine print of numerous website agreements, as well as the terms for car loans and leases, credit cards, checking accounts, insurance, investing accounts, student loans, and even certain employment and nursing home agreements.

Here’s how forced arbitration usually works: If you have a legal beef with a company, it picks an arbitrator who will settle the dispute. The decision is usually private, which means other consumers in the same position won’t know what happened to you. And there’s little basis for appeal if you don't agree with the arbitrator's decision. Arbitration clauses often restrict you from pursuing any type of court action, including joining similarly harmed individuals in a class-action lawsuit, where the results would be public. If you opt out of an arbitration clause, you’ll have the option to file legal action in court against the company if wrongs you. In the case of Citibank, customers can opt out by writing and mailing a letter back to the company—there is no form to fill out or prepaid envelope to use.

Why Is Citi Making This Change Now?

Citibank spokeswoman Elizabeth Fogarty says the company began introducing these revised agreements based on a number of factors, including customer feedback. The letters will continue to arrive in customer mailboxes for several more months, eventually reaching millions of consumers.

The move comes just a few months after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a lengthy report on the use of forced arbitration clauses in financial services agreements, and announced it intended to pass rules limiting the use of these clauses, which could happen as early as next year.

Now, however, an attempt is being made by some lawmakers to add a paragraph into the 2016 federal spending bill that would block the CFPB from moving forward on its rulemaking to rein in the use of forced arbitration clauses in consumer financial services agreements. Our sister publication, The Consumerist, explains in more detail what's at stake in the forced arbitration rider.

Citibank's letter offers consumers a choice when it comes to their legal options, but few customers actually opt out of binding arbitration. "How many of us really read what looks like junk mail from our bank?” says says Brad Reid, business professor and senior scholar at the Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. "So while the opt-out provision is good, the bank is probably counting on very few people ever triggering it."

Indeed, although 27 percent of the more than 400 credit card contracts the CFPB's March report looked at included an opt-out provision, none of the consumers it interviewed had opted out. Three consumers reported being given an opportunity to do so—but those three were mistaken. None of them actually had a contract that would have allowed them to opt out. "People are more focused on the cell phone, credit card, or other product they're buying and don't really read the fine print in agreements," Reid says.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, thinks lawmakers should be fighting against forced arbitration, rather than stalling the CPFB. "Congress should not block the CFPB as it works to rein in forced arbitration abuses in the area of consumer financial services," says George Slover, CU's senior policy counsel. "An opt-out letter is not going to be enough to fix the forced arbitration problem. And ultimately Congress needs to pass legislation to protect consumers against this unfair practice."

Tell your lawmakers to stand up to Wall Street and oppose adding anti-CFPB riders to the omnibus spending bill.

Opt Out If You Can

Citibank customers have a limited time to act. Letters are being mailed on a rolling basis, and those that were sent out in late October, for example, say customers must send a letter postmarked by December 10 to a P.O. Box in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to opt out. That letter must include account holders’ names and a statement saying they specifically reject arbitration. If you are a Citi customer and have yet to receive a letter, open up and read any correspondence Citi sends you; letters will continue to be sent to customers into next year, says Citibank's Fogarty. We’d suggest you send an opt-out letter via USPS Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. Keep a copy of everything you send and your receipt. This will prove that you opted out if you later need to file a lawsuit and Citibank claims you didn't opt out.

The language and process are similar to that of American Express, which began allowing its customers to opt out in 2013. Amex customers can opt out by sending a letter to an El Paso, Texas P.O. box within 45 days after receiving their new card; they do not get the agreement that explains the opt-out procedure until they receive the card.

Bank of America eliminated its forced arbitration clauses from credit card agreements in 2009. The CFPB found that many midsized banks and credit unions do not use them. Most other large banks still include them in the fine print of their contracts, however.