PROTECTING YOURSELF IN A COMPLEX MARKETPLACE — Our researchers and attorneys provide key tips for how you can shop for the best bank, get the best car loan, protect against identity theft, and more.
The Best Ways to Protect Yourself
Being a consumer in today’s marketplace can be tough. Financial decisions in particular often require navigating a torrent of misleading advertisements and pages of jargon-filled small print. Even the simplest choices — everyday financial decisions like opening a credit card, creating a bank account, applying for a loan, or sorting through cell phone contracts — can take time, energy and knowledge that too many of us don’t have.
Many financial institutions don’t set out to make it easier for their customers:
- 1 out of every 20 Americans — millions of consumers — have errors on their credit reports significant enough to raise their rate on loans.
- Financing cars through dealerships costs consumers more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest.
- From 2005 to 2010, identity theft rose by 33%. In 2012, an estimated 12.6 million Americans became victims. That is 1 victim every 3 seconds.
- Banks made around $11 billion in overdraft fees in 2015, fees they pitched as “overdraft protection” but actually cost consumers more.
Despite these practices, there are ways to protect yourself. We want to help. This is why we’ve created the following tip sheets based on common complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Read on. Protect yourself from becoming a statistic.
File a complaint if you have a problem
For all sorts of everyday consumer problems, there are government resources that can help. Federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Consumer Product Safety Commission exist to protect us from unfair or dangerous products. Submitting complaints to government agencies can help resolve your problem AND it helps these agencies hold companies accountable for unfair practices. For more information, consult our tip sheet on the subject, which includes information on how to contact the CFPB with financial complaints, the CPSC with toy and other product safety complaints, the NHTSA with car safety complaints, and DOT with air travel complaints: How to File a Consumer Complaint and Use Government Databases.
Keeping Track of Your Money:
- Top Ten Ways the CFPB Can Help You With Financial Questions
- How to Choose a Bank
- How to Avoid Problems When Paying Taxes
- How to Choose a Credit Card
Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:
- How to Access Your Credit Report and Avoid 'Free' Credit Report Scams
- How to Fix Mistakes on Your Credit Report
- How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Common Consumer Problems:
- How to Pick a Cell Phone Plan
- How Tenants Can Protect Themselves from Predatory Landlords
- How to Avoid Common Mistakes When Buying a Car
- How to Avoid Dangerous Toys
- Your Rights As an Air Traveler
Please note that these tips are not intended as, nor should they be construed as, legal advice. If you need legal advice dealing with a consumer problem, consult an attorney.
Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress.
Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advance directives are legal instructions that include a living will (different from a regular will) and a health care proxy. In them, you state what treatments you do or don’t want at the end of your life and who you want making health care decisions for you if you can’t.
Before listening to In Case You Get Hit By a Bus, I didn’t know about insurance that covers the costs of long-term care, such as home health care or nursing home care, for people who need assistance with daily living activities.
Getting my finances in order has been a work in progress over several years, starting with tackling credit card debt, paying off my car loan and then building an emergency fund.
After clearing those hurdles, I set more defined financial goals and plans in motion this year, including automatic deposits into new investment accounts.
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