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.

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:

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:

Common Consumer Problems:

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.

Issue updates

Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees

An analysis of new government data by PennPIRG Education Fund found that big banks made $8.4 Billion in overdraft fee income in the first three quarters of 2016, up nearly 4% from the same period in 2015. Since the beginning of 2015, all banks greater than $1 Billion in assets have been required to report fee data quarterly and are included in the study. Pennsylvania-based bank ACNB ranked second-highest in the nation in overdraft fee revenue-per-customer.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

TROUBLE IN TOYLAND 2016

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Over 7,000 Comments Submitted to Department of Labor

Every year, over $17 billion is lost from retirement savings to fees and charges, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Today, we submitted over 7,000 PIRG member comments urging the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize a strong rule requiring retirement advisors to put the interests of their customers first. We also submitted a detailed expert comment of our own in the important "conflicted advice" rulemaking.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Top 10 List: How the CFPB Works for Consumers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 4 on July 21st. To celebrate and increase public awareness of the agency, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a new webpage, “Meet the CFPB: Just Ten of the Ways It Works for You.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report: Mortgage Problems Rank #1 at CFPB for Consumer Complaints

Mortgage problems were the top source of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), according to a report released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report also found that Bank of America was the most complained about company in 45 states and Washington, D.C. for mortgage problems.It's the sixth in a series of our reports analyzing nearly 500,000 complaints posted to the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

We Commend CFPB For Adding Consumer Stories To Public Complaint Database

Yesterday, the CFPB published the first batch (7,700) of consumer narratives or stories to the Public Consumer Complaint Database it began in 2011. We've used the database to publish five reports (so far) analyzing complaint trends in markets ranging from credit cards to student loans but we have also long urged the voluntary addition of stories to the data fields. Now, consumers can learn if what happened to them happened to anyone else. Now, researchers can track which banks are more responsive to particular problems and which ignore their customers. A good resource is now an excellent resource.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems as if every consumer has an airline problem story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag. What many consumers don’t know is that they have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. This report tracks five years of consumer complaints and highlights which airlines received the most complaints and what kinds of complaints were most common.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2013

The 2013 Trouble in Toyland report is the 28th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Big Credit Bureas, Big Complaints

This report is the third of several that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report, we explore consumer complaints about credit bureaus with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with credit reporting.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Begins Payday Regulation Push In Richmond | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined the CFPB in Richmond Thursday for a field hearing on a proposed rule to regulate payday lending and similar high-cost short-term loans. The CFPB's draft rule is comprehensive, covering a variety of loans, but it contains potential loopholes that we and other advocates will urge the bureau to close before it finalizes this important effort. Here's a short blog with some photos from Richmond.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Adds Consumer Stories to Public Complaint Database | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the CFPB took a step to make its excellent public database of consumer complaints even better, by adding complaint narratives (stories), but only with the consumer's consent. It's a step we've long urged. It will enrich our research into the marketplace, help consumers make choices and help good-actor firms avoid bad practices by others.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

DON’T FREEZE OUR PUBLIC HEALTH AND CONSUMER SAFETY PROTECTIONS

Last year, in the 175 days that the U.S. House of Representatives was in session, it passed more than 190 anti-regulatory bills. Putting profits over public safety and they are still at it. Next up is H.R. 4078, the “Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act of 2012,” a bill that wrongly calls for a halt on all public health and consumer safety protections until the unemployment rate reaches six percent. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up the bill today, Tuesday, March 20.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

50 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK, JFK USHERED IN MODERN CONSUMER PROTECTION ERAEd Mierzwinski

People of almost any age know a lot about the Kennedy administration with its optimistic beginnings and its sudden, tragic end. Yet many have probably never heard of one of JFK's important legacies -- his declaration that consumers have rights that deserve protection.

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