What is a Consumer Law Attorney?

There was a time when consumers in America were essentially helpless when it came to dishonest business practices and defective products.

It was only in the last 40-50 years that we’ve seen the advent of laws like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Truth in Lending Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which give a legal voice against the banks and credit bureaus that have the ability to negatively impact a consumer’s credit profile.

And although these laws are designed to help consumers, they aren’t always followed or enforced. That’s where a consumer law attorney can help.

What is a consumer law attorney?

A consumer law attorney is a lawyer who focuses on protecting the rights of ordinary citizens who have been cheated, threatened or otherwise abused in the course of doing business.

Some of these lawyers are attorneys who work for government agencies that handle consumer affairs, or for public interest groups. Others go into private practice to handle individual consumer claims or larger class action suits.

It’s a field that touches virtually everyone in the country. We all interact with banks and credit companies. We all run the risk of being denied a loan due to inaccurate credit reporting, contacted by an abusive debt collector for someone else’s debt, or victimized by a car repossession when payments are misapplied.

But who can we turn to when things go wrong?

Consumer lawyers understand consumer credit law.  They know when a consumer’s rights have been violated by the credit bureau, debt collector or bank, and will fight for your rights in court…and in most cases, the “Bad Guys” pay the consumer’s legal bill.

What kind of cases do consumer law attorneys handle?

An attorney who specializes in consumer law might handle all types of cases. Some of the most common practice areas include:

1.    Debt collection

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from unscrupulous attempts to collect unpaid bills.

Debt collection companies are not allowed to threaten you with action they can’t/don’t intend to take. Nor can they contact your relatives or co-workers about your debt, give you false information or keep calling you after you send them a written request to stop. And when a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you can take them to court.

There are many ways to identify debt collection harassment, but attempting to stop this behavior can be difficult, especially as you try to manage your day-to-day life.

If you don’t feel confident enough to go after a debt collector in court, a consumer law attorney can take up your cause and determine whether the collection agency violated the FDCPA.

2.    Car repossession

A bank, credit union or finance company can repossess a vehicle if the borrower has fallen behind on payments.

Yet under the law, lenders and car repossession companies still must operate within the law. There are rules detailing how and when they can begin repossession proceedings, how the repossession must be conducted by the repo agent, what kind of notices they must give after the repossession and how a sale of the car should be handled.

If any of these rules were ignored or overlooked during or after the repossession, you may be able to take legal action, even if you had fallen behind on your payments. A consumer law attorney can help you navigate this complicated legal territory.

3.    Credit reports

Your credit history can determine everything from what kind of car you drive, to the job you have, to  where you live, which is why it’s important that all the information on your credit report is accurate.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)protects consumers from inaccurate or outdated credit report listings, duplicate listings of the same account, mis-merged files, and other errors.

If you discover any inaccuracies on your report, or that your report was accessed without your permission, you should send a written dispute to the credit bureau in question (Equifax, Experian or Transunion). If they don’t correct the information, or provide you with information about who obtained your report, a consumer law attorney can help you determine whether your rights have been violated and help you dispute errors in your credit report.

4.    Unwanted calls

If you’ve been getting unwanted calls to your cell phone from a telemarketer, bank or collection agency, you can write to them to revoke your permission to get calls or texts.

If the auto-dialed calls, or “robocalls”, continue, the caller may be in violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, (TCPA) which allows consumers to receive between $500 and $1,500 for every call they get after revoking their consent. A good consumer lawyer understands your rights under the TCPA and how to effectively defend them in court. Who can I call about a consumer law issue?

If you’ve been the victim of a car repossession, unscrupulous debt collectors, robocalls or an inaccurate credit report, the consumer law attorneys at Flitter Milz can help you seek justice.

Our attorneys understand consumer protection law.  Their experience in bringing cases under the FDCPA, FCRA and the TCPA have enabled consumers to standup to abusive collection tactics, credit reporting accuracy and privacy violations, unwanted “robocalls”, and unlawful vehicle repossessions. Contact us for a free legal evaluation and we’ll get to work on making sure you get the protection every consumer deserves.

Speak with our attorneys today about your consumer rights.

What Do If You’re Denied Loan

Personal loans are commonly used for expenses like home improvements, medical bills, and weddings. They can also be used to consolidate debt or pay off credit card bills at a lower interest rate. Loans with reasonable interest rates can provide a means to pay for something you may not be able to afford at the moment. 

But what happens if you’re denied for a personal bank loan? Follow these steps. 

Figure out why you were denied 

A loan application could be denied for a number of reasons. It’s important to understand the bank’s reason for not approving your application. It’s possible that your income doesn’t meet the required amount or your employment history is inconsistent. 

Loan applications may also be denied due to incorrect information on the application itself, or errors on the applicant’s credit report. You should verify that your identifying information like social security number and birth date are correct on the application. Check your credit report to make sure all information is accurate and dispute anything that is incorrect. 

Banks also look at your debt to income ratio when you apply for a loan. If you already have significant debt, it will be more difficult to secure a loan. Your overall credit is also an important factor. If you have a history of late payments or negative listings on your credit report, the bank may deny your application. 

Submit an application with a different bank

If one bank denies your application, you can try applying with another. It’s generally best to apply with your own bank before trying a different one, but banks have different criteria and guidelines for loan approval. You may be able to secure a loan with another institution. 

Consider getting a guarantor or co-signer

If you’re not able to secure a loan on your own, whether due to poor credit or insufficient income, a co-signer might be a good option. When a guarantor signs onto a loan, he or she agrees to take on financial responsibility if the borrower is unable to make payments. This helps the bank ensure that the loan will be paid back. 

Pay down debt

If your debt to income ratio is the issue, take some time to create some attainable goals to pay down your debt. Banks typically want your debt to income ratio below 35% to approve another loan. 

Stop applying for now

Sometimes a loan denial is a sign that you need to reassess your finances and make some changes. Each time you apply for a loan, the lender performs a hard inquiry to pull your credit information. Hard inquiries can temporarily hurt your credit. Take a break from loan applications for now and work on improving your credit, paying down debt, and tracking your expenses.

7 New Years Resolutions to Improve Your Finances

Many people view a new year as a chance for a fresh start. It’s a great time to evaluate your financial health and set some goals for improvement. When you set resolutions, it’s important to make them realistic and achievable so that you don’t get discouraged. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Create a budget and stick to it

Budgeting is the best thing you can do for your finances, but many people struggle when it comes to determining amounts. Instead of pulling a number out of thin air, take some time to research and analyze your spending habits. Create a list of all of your mandatory expenses like mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries, loans, etc. If you’re spending more than you’d like on these categories, look for areas where you can make cuts. Try reducing your electricity usage or start clipping coupons before you shop for food. 

Once you’ve determined how much you spend on the necessities, compare what’s left over to your monthly income. What other categories do you frequently spend on, and how much can you budget for entertainment? Avoid setting budgets that are unrealistically low; this will just lead to discouragement when you can’t stick to it. 

Considering using a budgeting tool like Mint to help track your expenses and stay organized. 

Grow your savings account 

The amount of savings you have ultimately depends on your financial situation, but most experts say you should have enough to cover six to nine months of living expenses. Unless you already have a substantial amount saved, it isn’t realistic to make this your goal for the year. Instead, work on small progress over time. Refer back to your budget and determine how much you can save each month. Ideally, you should save at least 10% every month. By the end of the year, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy savings account. 

Pay down your debt

You already know that the sooner you can pay off your debt, the better. You’ll end up paying less overall by avoiding extra interest accrual. 

If you’re able to, set a goal to aggressively pay down your debt this year. Pay more than the minimum amount due to see progress more quickly. Try to trim extra expenses from other budget categories so you can prioritize your debt. 

Pay on time

If you’ve struggled with timely bill payments in the past, make it your goal this year to always pay on time. Set up automatic payments if you can, or create recurring reminders on your calendar or in your phone. You’ll save money because you won’t be hit with late payment fees, and your credit will improve. 

Check your credit regularly

The best way to know where you stand financially is to regularly check your credit report. You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus every 12 months. Your report has information about your current credit account standing and payment history. It also includes any negative occurrences, like car repossessions or accounts in default. Check your report regularly to make sure the information is accurate and up to date.

Improve your credit score

If your credit score is on the lower end, set a goal to improve it this year. Pay any overdue bill payments, and make sure you make all payments on time moving forward. Keep credit usage below 30% of your available credit. This means you shouldn’t spend more than $300 on a card with a limit of $1,000. 

Keep in mind that if you apply for new credit this year, whether it’s an auto loan or a credit card, the lender will most likely perform a hard inquiry, which could lower your score. 

Become more financially literate 

Are there certain aspects of your finances that you struggle to understand? Take the time this year to learn more. Whether you want to do research into different ways to invest your money, or you want to have a better understanding of how interest accrues on your loans, having a solid understanding paves the way for healthier financial wellbeing.
 

How to Prepare Your Credit Accounts During the Holidays

It’s the season for gift giving, and that means extra spending. Credit cards can be a convenient way to purchase gifts for family and friends, but it’s important to stay organized and make sure you have a plan to pay them off. Take these steps before you do your shopping to ensure that you’re prepared. 

Check Your Credit Report

Your credit report provides the best summary of your overall financial standing. Your report will list all of your credit accounts, loans, and credit inquiries and will also list any delinquencies. To get a copy of your credit report, mail a credit report request letter to the credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax – and include two forms of identification. You can get a free copy of your report from each of the bureaus every 12 months. 

You may also want to check your credit score. This information will give you an idea of your overall financial standing and will alert you to any areas that could be improved. If your score is lower due to late payments or a lot of spending on credit accounts, keep this in mind when spending throughout the holiday season. 

Organize Your Accounts

Now that you know where your credit stands, make sure you’re aware of all of your open accounts along with the credit limits on each. You may have opened store credit cards in the past that you’ve since forgotten about. Double check that all of your accounts are in good standing. 

Keep an Eye on Credit Utilization 

Now that you know the credit limits on each of your accounts, try to avoid spending more than 30% of your available credit on each of them. For example, if you have a credit card with a limit of $1,000, you should do your best to avoid spending more than $300. Your credit utilization factors into your credit score, so spending more than 30% of your available credit could lower your score.

Set a budget for each of your cards to avoid overspending. This will also make it easier and more manageable when it comes time to pay them off. 

Pay Your Balances in Full and On Time

Set reminders to pay off credit accounts in full and on time. Carrying a balance over will mean paying more in interest fees. Your budgets will help you stay on track and help ensure that you’re always able to make your bill payments. 

Taking the time to prepare your credit accounts for holiday spending will allow you to enjoy the season without extra financial stress and will set you up for success in the new year. 
 

6 Tips for Holiday Shopping

The holidays are a busy time of year. Many people have difficulty staying on track with spending or forget that scammers may take advantage of the busy season. Follow these tips to stay financially responsible and to avoid common shopping scams that occur this time of year.   

Create a Budget for Holiday Gifts

It can be easy to overspend when you’re buying gifts for others during the holiday season. Before you make your shopping list, create a budget for how much you can afford to spend this year and do your best to stick to it. If your budget is tight, consider gifts like baked goods or homemade items.   

Pay off Credit Cards in Full and on Time

If you plan to use a credit card for your holiday spending, make sure to pay off your balance in full and on time. Carrying a balance over from month to month means that you’ll end up paying more for all of your gifts because of the interest that accrues on your account. 

Use Secure Passwords when Shopping Online

If you shop online, use different passwords for each of your accounts and make sure they’re strong and secure. Use a password storing tool so that you don’t have to worry about remembering them all. These accounts include your credit card information and billing information, so it’s important to keep them safe.

Watch for Scams Online

Unfortunately, the holidays are a popular time for new scams to pop up. Scammers take advantage of the busy season and use the opportunity to create fake products or to steal identities. If the price of an online item seems too good to be true, it probably is. You should always verify that you’re purchasing from a valid website and that the payment portal is secure before you buy anything.  

Don’t Leave Personal Information in Plain Sight

It’s important to remember not to leave personal documents or identifying information in easily accessible places or in plain sight in your vehicle, especially when parked in a busy shopping lot. Criminals could use this opportunity to steal your information. You also shouldn’t carry personal information, like your social security card, in your wallet or purse. 

Keep an Eye on Your Belongings

Always keep your belongings, like shopping bags, purse, or wallet, on your person when you’re holiday shopping. Busy stores or restaurants can provide an opportunity for someone to take your things unnoticed. Keep shopping bags in the trunk of your vehicle so they’re hidden from view. 
 

What Do If Your Identity is Stolen

A 2016 study showed that identity fraud hit a record high with 15.4 million victims in the United States. Some of the most common types of identity theft include social security, financial, driver’s license, and medical. Older individuals may be particularly vulnerable to identity theft; scammers often persuade the elderly to provide personal information that they can use to steal their identities. 

If you suspect someone has stolen your identity, it’s important to take action immediately. The consequences can be disastrous, but following these steps will help secure your information and prevent your credit from getting tarnished by someone else’s actions. 

1) Contact the Bank or Creditor

When you see suspicious charges or withdrawals on an account, contact the bank or creditor immediately and tell them that the charges weren’t made by you. You can use this letter to dispute charges that don’t belong to you and this letter to notify the bank of any unauthorized withdrawals from your account

2) File a Police Report

File a police report with the local police department and request a copy of the report. 

3) File a Fraud Alert

When you see suspicious activity on your credit card or bank account, contact the three credit bureaus to put a fraud alert in place. A fraud alert will notify the bureaus that you’re a victim of identity theft and that any new accounts should not be opened until you are contacted directly.  

A fraud alert is free and lasts 90 days.  

4) Request Your Credit Report

Request a copy of your credit report and review the listings for accounts or entries that you don’t recognize. Send a blocking letter to the credit bureaus to note the items that don’t belong to you. You can also request that the bureaus block any new charges or entries that come to that particular account. 

5) Contact the Federal Trade Commission 

Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the identity theft. Send an Identity Theft Affidavit or call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 877-438-4338.

6) Keep Thorough Documentation

Keep an organized file of all information and correspondence about the identity theft. This should include a copy of the police report, your credit report, credit card statements, and any correspondence about the issue. 

7) Protect Your Information 

Minimize the risk of identity theft in the future. 

  • Keep your social security card in a safe space, not on your person. 
  • Shred documents that have personal information like your social security number, bank account number or PIN, and credit card number. 
  • Never provide personal information over the phone or online unless you have verified that the requesting party is legitimate. 
  • Use secure, complex passwords, don’t repeat passwords across websites, and don’t keep them written down. Use a password storing tool. 

For more tips on identity theft and how to protect yourself, read this tip sheet from the National Consumer Law Center
 

How to Get a Better Auto Loan

Shopping for a new vehicle can be overwhelming on its own without even considering the auto loan application process. But if you don’t take the time to research and compare auto loans, you may end up with a bad deal. 

Before you begin to shop around for the best deal, check your credit report. Your overall credit will give you a general idea of what interest rates to expect. You should also consider your budget and how much you can afford to spend each month on vehicle loan payments. It’s important to make a purchase that you can afford. If you fall behind on loan payments, your vehicle may be at risk for repossession. A vehicle repossession negatively affects your credit for up to seven years. You should also keep in mind that shorter term loans will mean that you pay higher monthly payments, but less over the course of the loan. 

When you start to apply for new credit in the form of an auto loan, your credit score will take a slight hit. This is why it’s important to submit all of your applications in a short time period; the credit bureaus will treat a number of applications in a shorter time frame as a single application, keeping the negative effect on your credit to a minimum. 

Use this guide from Consumer Reports to make sure you get the best car loan possible.
 

College Students: What You Need to Know About Your Credit

As a college student, your credit is probably one of the last things on your mind. It can be a challenge to balance your classes and coursework while responsibly managing your finances, especially if this is the first time you have had to manage and budget your money. 

Many students don’t realize that they start to build their credit right away. Student loans and expenses like utilities and rent appear on your credit report, so it’s important to prioritize them and ensure you pay them on time. 

Here are some additional tips for building and monitoring your credit while you’re a student. 

Build Your Credit 

As a young person, you may not have a very extensive credit history. Unless a parent listed you as an authorized user on a credit card, your history is probably minimal. Sparse information may make it more difficult for you to secure new lines of credit or loans without a cosigner because lenders can’t be certain of your likeliness to make timely payments. 

If you have student loans, these accounts will appear on your credit report and will reflect positively on your credit as long as you make payments on time and in full. If you’re struggling with payments, look into income-based repayment options to avoid going into default. 

You may also want to consider opening a credit card if you don’t already have one. Different types of accounts add diversity to your credit portfolio and will reflect positively on your score. Shop around for a card with little to no annual fees. Older accounts are more beneficial to your history, so the account will continue to positively affect your credit over time as long as you make payments in full and on time.  

Keep Your Credit Utilization Low 

Your credit utilization also plays an important role in your overall credit health. If you regularly use more than 30% of your available credit, this may have a negative impact on your score. For example, if you have a credit card with a $1000 credit limit, you should avoid spending more than $300. This shows that you’re only using a small amount of the credit that’s being loaned to you.  

Check Your Credit Report Regularly

It’s important to regularly monitor your credit, even as a student, because there could be errors that negatively affect your report. You can get a free credit report every year from each of the three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Each report will contain similar but not identical data. Write for a copy of your report and have it mailed to you. If you wish, you can request your report from one bureau at a time, this way you can check the information on your report during the year every four months. 

If you find an error on your credit report, be sure to send a written dispute to the credit bureau. You should also dispute it with the creditor. Include any relevant information that supports your claim. 

Maintain Healthy Credit

If you continue to regularly monitor your credit report, pay bills on time, and keep your credit utilization low, your overall credit will remain in great standing. Good credit after college will make it easier for you to purchase a car, rent without a cosigner, and may even help you secure a job.
 

Credit Lessons for College Students

As a college student, this is likely the first time you’re responsible for your own finances. The way you manage your money in college can have a longstanding effect on your overall credit. Here are some important things to know about credit and what financial actions can help and hurt you. 

Know the difference between your credit score and credit report 

You’ve probably heard both of these terms used before, but what’s the difference between the two? Think of your credit score as an overall summary of your creditworthiness. Scores fall between 300 and 850, and the higher the number, the better the score. The average credit score is between 670 and 700, and a score above 720 is considered to be excellent. Lenders use credit scores to determine who qualifies for a loan as well as the terms of the loan agreement. 

Credit reports contain more detailed information about your credit history than your score alone. They include payment history records as well as employment, legal, and bankruptcy information. Negative listings on your credit report, such as late payments, loan defaults, or a vehicle repossession, will lower your credit score. 

Paying bills late will hurt your credit score

Timely payments are extremely important to your overall credit health. Late payments will appear on your credit report and have a negative effect on your credit score. Create reminders for all of your monthly bill payments like utilities, rent, student loans, and credit cards so that you don’t miss a payment and risk hurting your credit. 

Checking your credit doesn’t hurt your score 

There’s a common myth that checking your own credit will lower your score, but this isn’t true. Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – every 12 months. You can request one from a single bureau every four months to ensure that you’re always monitoring your credit for accuracy. Credit report errors are relatively common, so it’s important to monitor your information and make sure that everything is accurate. 

A potential employer can perform credit checks on you

Employment screening reports have become more and more common, especially for individuals seeking employment in banking and financial services, government, or jobs that require security clearance. They may also be used in various other industries such as trucking, nursing, food, and retail. 

There are, however, certain limitations when a potential employer seeks your credit information. They must request your permission by having you sign an authorization before they can access your credit or perform a background check. You’re also entitled to a copy of the report if they choose not to hire you as a result. 

Diverse account types will help you

When you start out building your credit, it’s beneficial to have a variety of accounts in good standing. This could include credit cards, federal and private student loans, and other regular bill payments like utilities. This shows lenders that you can responsibly manage different types of financial accounts. The length of time the accounts have been open also affects your score. Older accounts have a more positive impact on your credit. 

Secured credit cards can help you initially build credit

If you don’t have credit history, lenders may reject your application for a new line of credit because they can’t ascertain whether or not you’re a risk. Secured credit cards are a good option for those who need to build credit, or for those who have poor credit. 

A secured credit card requires an initial deposit which is then used as the credit limit on your card. You’ll get this deposit back if the card graduates to a normal credit card. 

You shouldn’t max out your credit cards

Many people don’t know that the amount they spend on their credit cards in relation to their available credit plays an important role in their overall credit health. If you have a credit card, avoid spending more than 30% of your available credit. Spending more can lower your credit score.   

Pay close attention to your credit health

Your credit is important for your future, so it’s important to monitor it regularly and stay on top of monthly payments. Healthy credit ensures that you won’t have an issue securing new lines of credit down the road and also sets you up for financial success.
 

How Your Credit Affects Vehicle Financing

Before applying for any new line of credit, it’s good practice to check your credit report and credit score. Auto loans are no exception. A credit check will give you a good idea of where you stand and what type of interest rates you can expect. It’s also important that you verify that all of your information is correct and dispute any inaccuracies that may be bringing down your score. 

However, credit scores that fall in the nonprime (620-679) and subprime (550-619) ranges may not necessarily indicate that you aren’t eligible for a reasonable interest rate. Lenders often use different tiers according to their own business needs to assess creditworthiness.

Lenders also frequently place more weight on credit history that is specific to auto loans. Timely auto loan payments in your credit history are more important than whether or not you make credit card payments on time. Always shop around to compare rates before signing an auto loan agreement.  

For more on how your credit score affects car financing, read this article from consumerreports.org