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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Resources I used to prepare my advance directive | Mike Litt

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. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

What I decided to do after shopping for long-term care insurance | Mike Litt

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. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I’m supercharging my savings with socially responsible investing (SRI) | Mike Litt

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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Back to school: financial literacy tips for college students, teens

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.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The CFPB Turns 10

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 10 years old, a new report from MASSPIRG Education Fund recaps how the agency has helped consumers over the past decade and the steps under way to refocus the CFPB on its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration. The report also provides recommendations for CFPB action moving forward, especially on credit reporting.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Consumer tips: What families should know about child tax credit payments that start July 15

Starting Thursday, many families with children under 18 will start getting monthly payments as part of the American Rescue Plan that became law this spring. Eligible families will get payments every month through December by direct deposit or by paper checks or preloaded debit cards that come in the mail. These payments will add up to half the child tax credit you should be entitled to for 2021; you can claim the rest next year when you file your tax return.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

STATEMENT: BATTLE AGAINST ROBOCALLS ENTERS NEW ERA JUNE 30

BOSTON -- Starting Wednesday, Americans can expect to receive fewer annoying, illegal robocalls. That’s the deadline the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed on most phone providers nationwide to install Caller ID verification to confirm whether calls on their network are actually coming from the number on display. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: Safe Sleep Act passes House, awaits vote in Senate

In an effort to protect infants from unsafe consumer products, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New report: the hidden costs of peer-to-peer payment apps

BOSTON -- Consumer complaints about peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps such as PayPal, Venmo and Square have surged during the pandemic year. In April, there were 970 digital wallet complaints — almost double the previous monthly high from July 2020. MASSPIRG Education Fund analyzed this growing problem for Virtual Wallets, Real Complaints, a new analysis of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) Consumer Complaint Database.

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Statement: Beech-Nut to stop selling some rice cereal over arsenic concerns

Beech-Nut will stop selling all single grain rice cereal after Alaska state officials discovered high arsenic levels during routing sampling, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement released Tuesday.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

MASSPIRG releases 33rd anual toy safety report at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. MASSPIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron in slime products and a failure by Amazon to appropriately label choking hazards. Boron can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues.

> Keep Reading

Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide

With this Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide, parents, teachers, and students can make more informed decisions while shopping for school supplies this Back to School season. We want to give parents and teachers the option to choose school supplies that do not contain toxic chemicals. This Shopping Guide should serve as a handy tool for finding products free of several types of toxic chemicals.

 

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach: 1 Year Later

A year ago, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers. To mark the anniversary of that notorious announcement, MASSPIRG called on state lawmakers to pass the pending Security Breach Bill, H4806,  and released a new report containing suggestions on how lawmakers, regulators, and consumers can safeguard personal information.

> Keep Reading

Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide

With this Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide, parents, teachers, and students can make more informed decisions while shopping for school supplies this Back to School season. We want to give parents and teachers the option to choose school supplies that do not contain toxic chemicals. This Shopping Guide should serve as a handy tool for finding products free of several types of toxic chemicals.

 

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I’m supercharging my savings with socially responsible investing (SRI) | Mike Litt

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Waking up to the dangers of inclined infant sleepers | Teresa Murray

If you’re stunned that safety standards for inclined sleepers weren’t required before, get this: The new rules don’t take effect for a year. That’s one of the problems in the world of infant sleep.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

How to get your stimulus payments when you file your tax return | Teresa Murray

Some of your friends or relatives have received two COVID-19 relief/ stimulus payments in the past year. And a third may be on the way soon. If you haven’t received anything yet and believe you should have, don’t fret.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Tips to file your tax return while avoiding fees, scams | Jacob van Cleef

You have six weeks to file your income tax return for 2020. Every year, it seems there are more issues to watch out for. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

The worst consumer problem: Fraud/identity theft | Teresa Murray

One in 20 people was a victim in 2019. Account takeovers, which involve a criminal gaining access to an existing account, soared by 72 percent in 2019.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund

Analysis of more than 200,000 complaints shows which airlines and airports do best and worst.

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. 

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.

View AllRSS Feed

Support Us

Your tax-deductible donation supports MASSPIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and to stand up to the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support MASSPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations. 




MASSPIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.