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Consumer Action INSIDER - May 2014

Table of Contents

 

What people are saying

Consumer Action, wonderful resources (as always) ... short and simple, but loaded with practical information. — Sister Terry Dodge, Crossroads, Inc., Claremont, CA

Did you know?

As of April 8, Microsoft has ended technical support for its 12-year-old Windows XP operating system. This means the company will not issue any new patches or fixes for that version. You can continue to use Windows XP, but your computer might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. Your choices? Upgrade (if your computer can handle newer operating systems) or buy a new computer. Learn more at the Microsoft website.

Credit-building loan program directory gets updated, expanded

Consumer Action has just updated and expanded its Directory of Credit-building Loan Programs, a downloadable list of community-based programs that enable consumers with little or no positive credit history to build a strong credit profile.

Started in 2012, the directory offers a state-by-state listing of programs and loan products that are designed specifically to help consumers establish and build credit. All the programs listed emphasize building good credit as the main purpose of the loan. As such, there typically is no minimum credit score requirement, and all programs report borrowers’ payments to at least one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

While each program is different, the loans generally are small-dollar, short-term loans with low interest rates and low or no fees. Some are set up so that all or part of the loan funds are “frozen” in a savings account until the borrower has made all the required payments. Upon full repayment, the loan proceeds become accessible and can be used—or saved—as the borrower chooses. Some programs also require that borrowers participate in financial education classes to strengthen their money management skills.

A handful of the programs in the directory are “lending circles,” a form of person-to-person (P2P) lending in which small groups pool their money and take turns receiving a loan from “the pot.” The summer 2012 issue of Consumer Action News explains the lending circle concept in greater detail, and highlights San Francisco-based Mission Asset Fund, whose pioneering Cestas Populares program is being emulated in communities across the country.

Establishing and building good credit is crucial because it enables consumers to achieve important financial goals, such as buying a home or car, paying for an education or financing a business. Equally important, a higher credit score entitles borrowers to more favorable interest rates, which can result in many thousands of dollars saved over the course of the loan. Good credit also can qualify consumers for better insurance rates, and is even required for some types of jobs.

“For a variety of reasons, from having low income to being new to the U.S. credit system, many people don’t have the credit scores that would help them qualify for mainstream financial opportunities and allow them to achieve important financial and life goals,” said Monica Steinisch of Consumer Action, who coordinated the directory. “As we continue to expand this directory, we hope to make it easier for motivated consumers to locate the programs that can help them get a leg up.”

The updated directory includes about two dozen programs in 15 states. If you know of any credit-building loan programs that do not appear in our list, please email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with any information you have and we will follow up with the program directly to obtain details.

Mission First puts its residents first

Philadelphia-based Mission First Housing Group’s mission is to develop and manage affordable, safe and sustainable homes for people in need, with a focus on the vulnerable. The organization ensures that its residents have access to resources to help them live independently. The group delivers housing that provides long-term benefits to residents and neighborhoods alike.

Mission First opened its doors in Philadelphia in 1988 as a joint venture between HUD, the City of Philadelphia and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Originally, the agency acquired a building with two units and used it to provide housing for adults with chronic mental illness. Over time, the agency has expanded its reach by acquiring properties in troubled affordable housing projects, employing merger strategies and coordinating resident services. Now the agency provides safe, affordable and sustainable homes to nearly 3,000 people in over 2,000 units. Mission First’s footprint is firmly stamped on the entire Mid-Atlantic region, where it serves a diverse resident population that includes families, veterans, seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Mission First’s DC resident services coordinator, Patrick Williams, reached out to Audrey Perrott of Consumer Action’s outreach and training department to see if a Consumer Action staff member could conduct trainings for the residents of Mission First, who are predominately African-American with income levels of 30% of the area’s median income (AMI). The agency provides on-site supportive services in five key areas: 1) health and wellness, 2) youth enrichment, 3) community engagement, 4) education and employment, and 5) resident education. Financial literacy falls under the group’s resident education initiative. Its goal is to improve quality of living standards for residents by providing education about money management skills, building and repairing credit and establishing short- and long-term goals.

 

 

Community advocates train Mission First clients using Consumer Action's materials, including MoneyWi$e and Digital Dollars.

Although the Consumer Action team was unable to conduct the trainings, Perrott arranged for two of Consumer Action’s DC network partners, Azalea Albritton and Idriys Abdullah, to fill in. These community advocates have been trained on MoneyWi$e, Digital Dollars and other Consumer Action educational modules.

Albritton is a member of the New Hope Church of God and a certified Educator of Personal Finance® and Certified Personal Finance Counselor®. She works with Pastor Aaron Jones to provide counseling to families receiving benevolence from the church. Albritton is also a volunteer financial counselor with the Maryland Cooperative Extension in Prince George’s County.

Albritton conducted the first financial literacy training in Mission First’s series for youth aged 5-13, which covered earning money by doing chores, saving gift money and understanding the difference between needs and wants. She offered examples of chores that would be appropriate for each age group, and provided play money to see if the youth were able to recognize the different denominations. Dividing the play money into sandwich bags, she had the kids break off into smaller groups (a mix of older and younger) and discuss how much money they had in different denominations. Albritton defined needs as essentials, such as clothing, food and transportation. For wants, she gave the examples of toys and candy. Mission First provided food and raffle prizes, including headphones, a movie gift card and a DVD, as incentives. Albritton provided each student with a pen and piggybank donated by CEO Timothy Anderson of the Government Printing Office Federal Credit Union. She also gave away some financial literacy computer games provided to Consumer Action by Visa Inc.

Coordinator Williams scheduled financial literacy programming through June for his residents. The U.S. Attorney’s office will present the next session in the series, on financial scams against seniors, on April 2. Albritton will return in April to conduct another presentation for the youth. That session will be followed in May by two MoneyWi$e sessions for adults on saving and budgeting. In June, Idriys Abdullah, consumer protection advocate at the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, will present the MoneyWi$e modules Good Credit and Rebuilding Good Credit.

Williams uses a multidisciplinary approach to reach and educate his residents. The tools include presentations, group activities, games, incentives and one-on-one counseling. He finds that providing incentives such as food and prizes is a major factor in getting residents in the door and opening them up to learning.

Williams learned about Consumer Action by surfing the Financial Education section of Capital One’s website. He immediately contacted Consumer Action’s outreach team for assistance. Williams said, “This is a partnership that will continue to grow. This partnership allowed my residents to be educated on money management, savings and building wealth for the future. It will help the kids to set up savings accounts for the future instead of putting their money in unsafe products. I am very thankful for the partnership. Education is powerful.”

Editor's note: You can find all of Consumer Action's MoneyWi$e materials on its MoneyWi$e website.

Hotline Chronicles: A ‘gift card’ mix-up vexes recipient

Nigel* from California contacted the Consumer Action hotline about a $25 gift card he received. When he attempted to use the card for a $25 purchase, he was told he had only $19.05 available. “When we contacted the card issuer, they claimed that after seven days a $4.95 “account maintenance” fee is deducted automatically from the balance.”

The card was issued by Blackhawk Network under the PayPower brand. “We received this gift on March 22 and used it for the first and only time on April 3.” Lodging a bitter complaint with a BlackHawk/PayPower customer service representative, Nigel pointed out that as a gift recipient, he would have had no way of knowing he had to rush out and use the card within seven days in order to avoid the hefty fee, which amounts to 20%. He told us the representative replied that there was nothing to be done and disconnected the call. “This treatment is simply unreasonable and unacceptable,” said Nigel.

Since August 2010 a federal gift card rule has protected consumers. That rule does not allow monthly maintenance fees to be charged until 12 months have passed. With some online sleuthing we learned why Nigel was charged an account maintenance fee. The gift-giver apparently purchased a PayPower Visa Prepaid Card—not one of the company’s gift cards—and it must have been purchased at least three weeks before it was presented to Nigel.

Prepaid cards are not subject to the gift card rule. For example, the PayPower Visa Prepaid Card can be purchased off a rack at many stores for $3.95 or higher, and carries a monthly maintenance fee (now $5.95, per its website). In addition, the website says the company’s prepaid cards have to be activated online before use. Because of “know your customer” requirements in place to prevent money laundering by criminals, prepaid card owners have to provide their full name, a “verifiable” physical U.S. street address (post office boxes are not accepted), date of birth, home phone number, email address and Social Security number.

For both prepaid and gift cards, consumers can request “split tender” transactions if they know the exact amount of the card balance and if they inform the merchant before the transaction that they would like to use two forms of payment. Had Nigel known this, he would have been able to spend the $19.05 on the card by supplementing the purchase with cash or another card.

“Gift cards can be a nice way to give someone the ability to purchase something he or she really wants,” said Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry. “Consumers need to know that only true “gift cards” come under the protections of the gift card rule. Even so, the representative should have known this and explained it to Nigel. He was not at fault and did not deserve to be treated rudely.”

The gift card rules require that balances are good for at least five years from the date the card is purchased. Fees can be charged only when the card is not used for one year, and then you may be charged only one fee per month.

Covered cards include:

  • Store gift cards, which can be used only at particular retailers.
  • Gift cards with a MasterCard, Visa, American Express or Discover logo. These cards generally can be used wherever the network brand is accepted.

The rules apply only to gift cards, which, confusingly, are a type of prepaid card. Other types of prepaid cards are not covered:

  • Reloadable prepaid cards not intended for gift-giving purposes. For example, prepaid cards with the MasterCard, Visa, American Express or Discover logo that are intended to be used as reloadable payment devices or as checking account substitutes are not covered.
  • Cards given as a reward or promotion. Regardless, you must be informed clearly about any expiration dates or fees.

To learn more about all manner of plastic payment cards, visit Know Your Card, a Consumer Action website.

If you'd like to submit a complaint to Consumer Action's advice and referral hotline, click here for English or here for Spanish (español).

*Not this consumer’s real name.

A fair for National Consumer Protection Week

Consumer Action joined more than a dozen consumer protection organizations and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for 2014’s National Consumer Protection Week Fair at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Local consumers and congressional staffers from more than 50 congressional offices came through the fair, stopping to peruse the literature on offer and to learn more about the pressing consumer issues.

Alegra Howard, Consumer Action’s national priorities associate, said that identity theft was the most popular topic of the day. “I asked staffers about the issues their constituents are most concerned about. Across the board, the answer was identity fraud.”

Howard said all the copies in five languages of Consumer Action’s MoneyWi$e ID Theft & Account Fraud: Prevention & Cleanup brochure were snatched up early in the day.

Howard said visitors who were parents grabbed resources pertaining to children’s use of cell phones and to building and protecting their kid’s credit.

Staffers weren’t the only ones praising Consumer Action’s educational materials. Representatives from the National Credit Union Association (NCUA), the National Futures Association (NFA) and the Department of Labor (DOL) stocked up on our resources on prepaid cards and tenants’ rights.

 

 

Alegra Howard of Consumer Action shows off our wares at the National Consumer Protection Week fair on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Tsegaye Wolde from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services noted that offering literature in several languages is imperative to educating the most vulnerable communities that all consumer advocate organizations serve. “It’s great that we can provide education on a vast array of topics in multiple languages in order to safeguard consumers. Once we know each others’ area of strength, we become this incredibly valuable network to help consumers protect themselves from fraud.”

The FTC’s Derick Rill agreed, noting “all of the organizations in attendance form a natural partnership in the fight against consumer fraud. It was a pleasure to hear more about Consumer Action’s multilingual education materials and outreach in local communities.”

Howard said that some fairgoers asked for information in Russian and French—two languages we don’t offer currently. “They were excited to pick up resources for friends and relatives, but disappointed it wasn’t available in their native languages.” Food for thought?

Out and About: Considering new Post Office financial products

The thorny problem of providing adequate financial services to low-income consumers has drawn the interest of the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The Office of the Inspector General of the USPS released a white paper in early April that lays out options for providing non-bank financial services for the underserved.

At a recent meeting of the Consumer Postal Council, Mohammad Adra, assistant inspector general for the USPS, presented the report’s findings. Adra was careful to emphasize that the report simply identifies specific opportunities for the USPS to offer non-bank financial services, and does not lay out a complete plan. “We are not suggesting that the Postal Service should become a bank or compete with banks,” said Adra.

Linda Sherry of Consumer Action attended the meeting. “There are significant questions as to whether the Postal Service would need approval from Congress or could just decide on its own to offer financial services,” Sherry said.

The USPS is reviewing the white paper.

The idea of financial services at the Post Office is not new. In 1910, Congress established the Postal Savings System, offering government-backed savings accounts through the mid-60s. The bank survived the Great Depression of the 30s without loss of funds or bailouts, but met its demise when commercial banks began offering higher interest rates on savings accounts.

The USPS already offers money orders and international money transfers. Money orders are a moneymaker for the Postal Service, while its international remittances, not so well known, offer value for those who wish to send money to the handful of countries in the program.

The white paper got a lot of attention, both positive and negative. The banking industry has panned the concept, saying the USPS would be out of its league. However Adra says such a plan has many advantages, including an enormous network of post offices and “trust”—a critical element in financial services.

Some of the financial offerings covered in the white paper are prepaid cards, direct deposit, e-commerce, bill payments, mobile transaction services and small loans. The white paper authors propose a short-term loan product with five-month payoff, a 28% annual percentage rate and the ability to collect unpaid balances via Treasury Department levy on tax refunds.

The white paper can be downloaded online.

Click here for more about the Consumer Postal Council.

CFPB Watch: A roundup of recent doings at the Bureau

Credit reports and credit scores were the focus of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) February consumer advisory board (CAB) meeting in Washington, DC. The 25-member CAB is comprised of experts in consumer protection, financial services, fair lending, community development and civil rights.

Consumer Action’s Ruth Susswein attended the meeting, at which one topic for the CAB was credit reporting. Three-quarters of the complaints the bureau receives about credit reporting include charges of inaccurate or incomplete reporting and trouble correcting errors. During the public session of the meeting, CAB members heard frustration about the way disputes are handled by the Big Three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Critics charged that the dispute process is automated, without human intervention, and suggested that credit bureaus should delve into disputes instead of simply accepting creditors’ responses and placing disputed items back on consumers’ credit reports without adequate explanation and resolution.

This spring, CFPB Director Richard Cordray publicly recognized Discover Card for providing customers with a free credit score on its monthly billing statements and called on all major card issuers to do the same. Discover includes a graphic that alerts consumers to how their score compares on average to other consumers. Credit scores are used to determine eligibility for credit, loans, mortgages, rentals and insurance.

The Internal Revenue Service is helping spread the word that the CFPB is the “go-to” place to submit complaints about financial services problems. This year, statement stuffers were slipped into IRS refund envelopes to remind people that they can file complaints with the financial watchdog. The CFPB accepts debt collection, credit card, mortgage, credit reporting, money transfer, bank account, debit, student loan and other complaints at www.consumerfinance.gov or at 855-411-CFPB (2372).

In its efforts to end predatory student loans, the CFPB took legal action against for-profit college chain ITT Education Services on charges that it pushed students into high-cost loans that were “destined to default.” ITT projects that a whopping 64 percent of students would default on its loans. Tens of thousands of students have enrolled in online classes at about 150 ITT technical schools in close to 40 states.

According to the CFPB, earning a bachelor’s degree at ITT can cost about $88,000, making the school’s tuition rates among the highest in the country. The CFPB says ITT pressured students into taking out predatory loans to cover the high tuition without adequately explaining the cost or obligations of the private loans. The Bureau also alleged that many ITT credits are not transferrable to other schools, and that ITT misled students about job prospects.

Students in default on college loans can find guidance by using the CFPB’s “Repay Student Debt” online tool.

In related news, Consumer Action is proud to announce that the recipient of our 2014 Consumer Excellence Awards in the government/regulatory category is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Consumer Education and Engagement Division, which creates opportunities for consumers to make better choices about money so that they can reach their life goals. The award will be presented at our 43rd anniversary event in Washington, DC on Oct. 21—still in the planning stages. We’ll announce more about the event in an upcoming issue of the INSIDER.

Coalition Roundup: Housing, privacy and protecting the CFPB

“It takes a village” to create positive change. This spring, Consumer Action has joined numerous important joint efforts to ensure new and improved consumer protections.

This article links to Consumer Action’s Coalition Efforts articles, where you can find links to the referenced letters.

Forgiven debt subject to income tax in 2014. The expiration of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act means those who were forced to short sale their homes will be subject to taxes on the forgiven debt. In February, groups asked Congress to quickly enact a fix with the swift passage of several pending bills. Click here to learn more.

Consumer privacy bill of rights. Two years ago President Obama made an important commitment to introduce privacy legislation. In February, groups asked the President to finish the job of creating a privacy bill of rights. Click here to learn more.

Legislation would help Wall Street, hurt consumers. In February, consumer interest groups led by Americans for Financial Reform sent a letter to Congress in opposition to the deceptively named Consumer Financial Freedom and Washington Accountability Act (HR 3193) bill. The legislation would replace the position of director of the CFPB with a five-member commission, weaken the voting standard for the Financial Stability Oversight Council from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority vote, and make the agency subject to the congressional appropriations process rather than its current funding system through the Federal Reserve. Click here to learn more.

Wall Street is about to crash the housing market—again. In a March letter to housing regulators, Consumer Action joined the Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) to demand “immediate federal intervention” to rebalance the housing market in favor of qualified borrowers who can’t get affordable mortgage loans. Tightened lending standards and the activities of “flipper” investors in low-cost neighborhoods are making it increasingly difficult for low-income people to become homeowners. Click here to learn more.

Safeguards needed to protect telecom customer privacy. In March reply comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Consumer Action and other communications privacy advocates again urged the agency to protect telecom customers’ private information by requiring telecom carriers to adopt more stringent security measures, such as consumer-set passwords, an audit trail and notice to consumers of an unauthorized access. Click here to learn more.

Choice and savings for Medicare Part D. Medicare’s drug program, known as Part D, provides drug benefits to 36 million elderly and disabled people through private insurers. However, the program has been hijacked by “pharmacy benefit manager” programs at large chain stores, which restrict choices for consumers and drive costs up. Consumer Action joined a number of senior and beneficiary protection groups in a March letter in support of proposed changes to Medicare Part D rules to ensure better regulation of preferred networks and more community pharmacy choices for consumers. Click here to learn more.

Technology neutral devices for cable customers. As technology continually improves the way consumers enjoy television and media, Consumer Action and its allies believe it is important to give consumers a choice of technology and hardware. In March, a coalition of communications rights groups asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that third-party devices are as compatible as devices supplied by cable companies. Click here to learn more.

Housing counseling helps families in crisis. In late March, Consumer Action joined hundreds of housing advocates to urge Congress to increase 2015 federal funding for housing counseling, a proven, cost-effective tool for Americans facing all sorts of housing challenges. The beneficiaries of increased funding would include homeowners facing foreclosure, young families looking to purchase their first home and seniors considering a reverse mortgage. Click here to learn more.

Follow the EU’s lead on privacy protections. A recent decision by the highest court of the European Union to invalidate the EU Data Retention Directive made it clear that the unbounded retention of telephone records for national security purposes is not necessary, appropriate or proportionate in a democratic society. This means that telephone companies in the EU may no longer be required by law to collect and retain customer records for national security purposes. In mid-April, Consumer Action joined privacy and civil liberties advocates in a letter to the White House asking the administration not to renew the National Security Administration’s bulk telephone records collection program and to acknowledge the EU action in the administration’s forthcoming report on Big Data and the Future of Privacy. Click here to learn more.

Consumer Action weighs in on abusive debt collection tactics

Being contacted by a collector is serious business—if you are linked with a debt you don’t owe, it can ruin your ability to get a loan, a mortgage, insurance or even a job. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), in advance of issuing proposed debt collection regulations, asked for public comment on debt collection problems and solutions. Consumer Action added its piece to the more than 1,200 comments received by the Bureau.

Droves of consumers tell the CFPB that they have been hounded about debts they do not owe. In the few months since the CFPB began to accept complaints about debt collectors, the issue earned the dubious distinction of top complaint category. (The FTC also counts debt collection as one of its top complaint categories—this year nabbing the number two spot behind ID theft).

Via its hotline, Consumer Action also regularly hears from consumers who have been harassed by debt collectors, dunned for debts they do not owe and ignored when they attempt to exercise their legal rights by demanding a halt to the calls. These abuses can harm consumers’ reputations in the workplace and in their communities.

In addition to accusations of debts not owed, consumers often mention that debt collectors badger them at work without consent and threaten them with jail time—both generally prohibited under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.

Here are some of the improvements suggested by Consumer Action:

  • Require collectors and creditors to show proof that the consumer owes a debt and that the amount is accurate.
  • Forbid debt collection and debt sales without full itemization and documentation of the original debt.
  • Require that all documentation related to a debt travel with the debt if it is sold or collected by another party.
  • Spell out consumer rights to dispute a debt or stop collections in plain English and large print on collections notices and copies provided whenever a collector writes or calls a consumer.
  • Conduct meaningful investigations when consumers dispute debts, including a review of all relevant documents, identity verification and a tailored response to the specifics of the consumer’s dispute.
  • Keep disputed collections accounts out of consumer credit score calculations and other credit analyses.
  • Exclude medical debt from credit score calculations.
  • Prohibit mandatory arbitration in dealings with debt collectors, debt buyers and creditors.

Read Consumer Action’s comment letter.

Read a summary of all debt collection comments at the Regulation Room website.

The CFPB is reviewing all comments and recommendations before issuing rules that will apply to all large debt collection companies, which it regulates.

Class Action Roundup: Forcing homeowners to buy overpriced insurance

In April, Consumer Action added 11 class action settlements to our Class Action Database.

A number of class actions have been settled that center on mortgage lenders’ “force-placed” insurance practices. Most mortgages require homeowners to carry adequate property insurance. If a borrower’s own insurance is cancelled, lapsed or deemed insufficient, lenders can impose “force-placed” property insurance. This type of coverage can cost more than policies purchased on the competitive open market and often provide substandard coverage.

In Saccoccio vs. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA et al, plaintiffs filed a class action against the mortgage bank and various insurance companies claiming that Chase had required borrowers to carry more property insurance than necessary under its mortgage contracts and federal law. Plaintiffs also alleged that JPMorgan Chase had received kickbacks from insurers if mortgagees signed up for certain policies.

JPMorgan Chase agreed to a $300 million settlement. Borrowers who were enrolled in force-placed insurance issued by certain insurance companies between Jan. 1, 2008 and Oct. 4, 2013 may be eligible to receive a refund of 12.5 percent of their premiums. If no appeals are filed in the case, the claims deadline will be June 14 (or 60 days after the final settlement date).

Separate class actions regarding force-placed insurance were brought against Citigroup, Wells Fargo, HSBC and Bank of America:

  • Citigroup agreed to a $110 million settlement in February. The case is Gordon Casey, Duane Skinner and Celeste Coonan, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated vs. Citigroup Inc., Case No. 12-00820, U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York.
  • Wells Fargo settled for an undisclosed amount in March. The case is Fladell et al. vs. Wells Fargo Bank NA et al, Case No. 0:13-cv-60721, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
  • HSBC agreed to a $32 million settlement in March. The case is Javier Lopez et al. vs. HSBC Bank USA NA et al, Case No. 1:13-cv-21104, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
  • Bank of America agreed to a $228 million settlement in April. The case is Cheryl Hall et al vs. Bank of America NA et al, Case No 12-cv-22700, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida.

For these and other new cases, please see our Class Action Database.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial and consumer literacy and advocating for consumer rights in both the media and before lawmakers to promote economic justice for all. With the resources and infrastructure to reach millions of consumers, Consumer Action is one of the most recognized, effective and trusted consumer organizations in the nation.

Consumer education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of educational resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth information on many topics related to personal money management, housing, insurance and privacy, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. At Consumer-Action.org, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database and nine topic-specific subsites. Consumer Action also publishes unbiased surveys of financial and consumer services that expose excessive prices and anti-consumer practices to help consumers make informed buying choices and elicit change from big business.

Community outreach. With a special focus on serving low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of nearly 7,500 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial and consumer education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Consumer Action’s network is the largest and most diverse of its kind.

Advocacy. Consumer Action is deeply committed to ensuring that underrepresented consumers are represented in the national media and in front of lawmakers. The organization promotes pro-consumer policy, regulation and legislation by taking positions on dozens of bills at the state and national levels and submitting comments and testimony on a host of consumer protection issues. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

 
 
 

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