In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week March 2-8, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) offers consumers five tips to improve their level of financial protection.
By executing one of the following steps each day, consumers will put themselves into a much safer financial position in just one week.
1. Protect personal information. In 2014, identity theft once again topped the list of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and has held the top spot for over a decade. Identity theft has grown to include taxes, medical records and establishing an identity in a child’s name.
No one can prevent ID theft, but consumers can and should take steps to protect themselves. Start by reviewing tips from the FTC, and report fraud-related schemes by calling call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).
2. Review your credit report. Credit reports are not only the gateway to loans, mortgages and credit cards, but are often reviewed by landlords, cell phone providers and utility companies. The report reflects a person’s financial track record and can strongly influence a lending decision. Be your own personal watchdog by routinely reviewing your credit report. Consumers can access a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months from each of the three bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, by going to www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
3. Have an insurance review. Protect yourself against costly surprises. Making a claim only to discover a loophole in coverage can be financially devastating. Set an appointment with your insurance agent to confirm that the coverage is adequate, and review opportunities to save on premiums.
4. Get to know your credit card. Many people don’t realize that certain protections are part of their credit card agreement. For instance, the Fair Credit Billing Act allows consumers to seek a refund if a product purchased was unsatisfactory. Cards may also offer return protection and extended warranties. There are many federal laws in place to protect your rights when interacting with a credit card company. Go here for a list of credit protection laws.
5. Know your rights. Congress established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which works to give consumers the information they need to understand the terms of their agreements with financial companies. Part of their job is to protect consumers by carrying out federal consumer laws. Among other things, the CFPB restricts unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices, promotes financial education and accepts complaints. Submit issues with a financial product or service to the CFPB online.
No one wants to be taken advantage of, especially financially. Consumers who are educated about the many rights and protections available have a greater peace of mind when making financial purchases or decisions.
-- The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services. For confidential advice through a reputable NFCC Member, call (800) 388-2227, (en Español (800) 682-9832) or visit www.nfcc.org. To learn more about protecting your financial future, reach out to an NFCC member agency and inquire about the Sharpen Your Financial Focus program. To be automatically connected to the agency location closest to you, dial 855-3-SHARPEN (855-374-2773), or go online to www.SharpenToday.org.