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

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

Target Removes Lead-Laden Fidget Spinner From Website, But Still Available For Sale In-Store

Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

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News Release | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG CONSUMER ADVOCATE MIKE LITT TESTIFIES AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON EQUIFAX

Our Consumer Advocate, Mike Litt, was invited by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, to testify this week at a Congressional hearing on the Equifax data breach. This was a continuation of the committee's previously held hearing on October 5th entitled "Examining the Equifax Data Breach."

> Keep Reading
News Release | Consumer Protection

REPORT: MORTGAGE ABUSES LEADING SOURCE OF OLDER CONSUMER COMPLAINTS TO CFPB

Mortgages were the leading source of 72,000 complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from consumers 62 years of age and over, followed by complaints about credit reports and debt collection, according to a new report. Further, legislation passed by the House and awaiting Senate action intended to cripple the Consumer Bureau would place older consumers at greater risk of harm from financial scammers.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

Older consumers are at risk of harm from predatory financial behavior. An analysis of more than 72,000 financial complaints submitted by older consumers (those 62 years of age and older) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB, or Consumer Bureau) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database suggests that mistreatment of older consumers by financial companies is widespread.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

PIRG today commended the public release of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would strengthen the ability for Americans to save for retirement by addressing conflicts of interest that arise when brokers and financial advisers give retirement advice. Wall Street will fight the rule hard, because it requires them to put consumers first.

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News Release | Ohio PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New CFPB rules will protect homebuyers and homeowners

On Friday, January 10, new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules will go into effect that will help protect homeowners and homebuyers from the mortgage abuses that led to the housing crisis.

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Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

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. 

Blog Post

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. 

Blog Post

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.

News Release | US PIRG

During this time of year, families are thinking about the children going back to school, and for parents who are sending their kids to college, it can be a bit overwhelming. A key to addressing those concerns is making sure their teens are prepared for “adulting” -- in other words, taking care of their own lives.

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