Consumer Tips

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.

Protect Yourself

In today's marketplace, it takes a savvy, informed consumer to avoid common pitfalls and threats. Financial decisions in particular require assessing a blizzard of advertisements and navigating pages of jargon-laden fine print to make decisions about credit cards, bank accounts, loans, health insurance, and cell phone contracts, among other things.

It’s more important than ever to protect yourself:

  • Consumers who finance their cars through a dealership pay more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest over the lives of their loans.
  • In 2010, more than 8 million households were victims of identity theft, a 33 percent rise since 2005.
  • One out of 20 consumers has errors on their credit report significant enough to lead to higher rates on loans.
  • Banks made around $30 billion in overdraft fees in 2011. Adding insult to injury, these fees were pitched as “overdraft protection,” which most consumers would be better off without.

That's why the U.S. PIRG Education Fund has compiled recommendations and resources for consumers. Our tip sheets address some of the most common complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission—read on, and protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

 
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. 

Issue updates

Texas Chemical Explosions: More Safety Needed Now

Two small explosions last night at a Texas chemical facility highlight that comprehensive emergency regulations need to be enforced more strictly at chemical plants.

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Statement on P&G’s Consumer Product Fragrance Disclosure Announcement

U.S. PIRG Education Fund applauds consumer product giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of brands like Olay, Old Spice, and Pampers, for its announcement today that it will increase fragrance ingredient transparency in all of its consumer brands.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

California Moves to Study, Not Ban, Toxic Chlorpyrifos

The Brown administration should recognize that the science of the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos is well-established, and that it is time to eliminate its use in California.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG Education Fund Files Amicus Brief in the U.S. Supreme Court Supporting States in Antitrust Litigation Against American Express | Michael Landis

On July 6, 2017, U.S. PIRG Education Fund filed with the U.S. Supreme Court an amicus brief supporting several states who are asking the Court to review a Second Circuit judgment that allows American Express to prohibit merchants from encouraging customers to use lower-priced payment options.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Slow and Steady Progress Getting Toxic Chemicals out of Soaps, Shampoos, and More | Dev Gowda

In the past year, we’ve seen a lot of progress. Consumers are at the forefront of making that happen, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to harness consumer preferences and push several companies to do better. Here’s what’s happened over the past year.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report Identifies Banks Consumers Complain About Most

WASHINGTON – Thousands of Americans are using the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public Consumer Complaints Database to settle disputes with their banks, according to a new report from the US PIRG Education Fund. The report highlights banks that generated the most complaints through their various banking services in each state.

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Bounced Checks Could Land You On A Banking Blacklist

"NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Bounced checks and forgotten overdraft fees can happen to anybody. But now, some banks are using those money mistakes against customers. [...] Consumer advocates said that some of the people being shut out have records that were dinged accidentally." (Video and print story available)

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An $18 Million Lesson in Handling Credit Report Errors

"Even after sending more than 13 letters to Equifax over the course of two years, Julie Miller could not get the big credit bureau to remove a host of errors that it inserted into her credit report. [...] So she tried suing. That worked. [...] “Big punitive penalties may help force the bureaus to upgrade their 20th-century algorithms and incompetent dispute reinvestigation processes,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “But C.F.P.B.’s authority to supervise the big credit bureaus is one of the most significant powers Congress gave it.”

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report. It reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for lead, cadmium and phthalates, all of which have been proven to have serious adverse health impacts on the development of young children. The survey also found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and toy magnets that can cause serious injury.

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Fox Business: Consumer Watchdog Gives Bite to Dodd-Frank

"The CFPB has been enormously successful in ramping up over its first year," says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups in Washington, D.C.

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Blog Post

In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.

Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Today, in response to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) request for information (RFI) on harmful “junk fees,” the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund submitted comments exposing how financial service giants and universities are plaguing postsecondary students with unexpected, unavoidable, and hugely expensive charges on a range of financial products.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Report on issues with "Buy Now, Pay Later" financing plans.

Blog Post

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. 

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