Consumer Protection Laws – Helping Consumers from Deceptive Business Practices

What do all of these things have in common?

  •        A business that misleads its customers through false advertising.

  •        A group of people who try to set up a pyramid scheme.

  •        An auto dealership that winds back the odometer before selling a used car.

 

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How can a Credit Report Lawyer help me?

Mistake on Credit Report

Credit report errors happen more often than most of us would like to think. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has listed credit report errors as one of the top complaints filed.  Believe it or not, one out of every 20 of us have errors on one of our three major credit reports.

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What is the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

FCRA Fair Credit Reporting Act on a table.

October 26, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important pieces of consumer protection legislation in the country’s history: The Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, is a federal law governing how consumer credit information can be used and distributed. It gives consumers the right to see what’s on their credit reports and dispute errors and inaccurate information.

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U.S. Servicemembers: Strengthen Your Credit

Military life is one of frequent transitions. Each deployment, promotion, and change in duty status brings the need to make money-related decisions. These financial decisions can have long-term effects on family life, mission readiness, and security clearances.

Service members often run into trouble because of the irregularities in their daily life. They may tend to overspend and receive contact from debt collectors. They may fall for financial scams and become a victim of identity theft. Or, due to errors on credit reports, they may be denied loans or have a vehicle repossessed. Learning more about consumer credit and how to build a strong credit history can help servicemembers and veterans improve their financial health.

Take Advantage of Free Credit Reports

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you’re allowed one free credit report from each bureau – Transunion, Experian, and Equifax – within a twelve month period. Send a letter to one of the bureaus and request your reports. Review them carefully to ensure that there are no errors and that you recognize all of the listed accounts. 

Credit Accuracy

Credit reports include personal information, credit history, credit inquiries, and public records.  Credit cards, mortgages, and loans are all listed along with the payment status. If you fall behind on payments or default on a loan, your credit report will list this negatively. Negative entries may make it more difficult for you to open a new line of credit, be approved for a new loan, or receive a promotion or security clearance. It may also mean that you will be approved for a loan, but with a higher interest rate.

Credit Privacy

Regular credit report checks help you monitor your accounts and determine whether someone has accessed your credit report without your permission or opened accounts in your name. If you notice suspicious activity, information that does not belong to you, or believe you have become a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:
  -Contact the Bank or Creditor
  -File a Police Report
  -File a Fraud Alert
  -Request your current credit reports
  -File an Identity Theft Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission
  -Keep an organized file with all correspondence and records
  -Protect your personal information.  Keep it private.

Know How Much You Spend

A budget helps you see where you can cut back on spending and create a workable plan to pay off debt.Take the time to set a budget. Divide your regular expenses into categories for housing, food, transportation, health care, personal & family and finances. Determine how much you can afford to spend on each category every month. Use a spreadsheet or online tool to keep track of all of your accounts and expenses. 

Be Aware of Scams

Follow your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Unfortunately, service members are frequent targets for various scams. Companies or organizations could call and claim to belong to a veterans group or another legitimate sounding organization. Be sure to research the organization, find out where they’re located, see if there is a complaint board online, and investigate whether the company is reputable. 

Be cautious. If you receive a call from someone, do not provide any personal identifying information, such as your social security number or date of birth, or access to bank accounts or credit and debit cards.  Require them to provide you with something in writing that states who they are and where they are located.

Financial Guidance for Service Members

Remember, you’re not alone. There are many services offered through the Department of Defense and veterans organizations to help service members keep finances on track. Do your research and make a financial plan that is right for you.

Seek Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that assists victims of identity theft that have suffered from credit report harm, abusive debt collectors and wrongful vehicle repossessions by aggressive lenders and repo agents.  Contact Us for a no cost consultation to discuss whether your consumer rights have been violated.

 

 

Debt Collection Against Military Personnel

When an account goes into collection, it’s stressful and overwhelming for anyone. But debt collection can be especially troublesome for military service members. Financial trouble could result in negative consequences like loss or denial of security clearance.

Frequent moves and relocations can make it difficult for service members to keep up with bills and collection notices. Set up automatic payments when you can and always make sure to update your address to avoid missing bill payments.

If an account does go into collection, debt collectors often use shady tactics to try and collect payments. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits collectors from threatening to reduce a service member’s rank or security clearance. They are also not allowed to threaten to contact chain of command. Learn more about what debt collectors can’t do under the FDCPA.

Military personnel are also protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. This legislation provides some protections against car repossession for those in the military.

Make sure to educate yourself on how to manage your finances and learn about the laws that exist to protect you. Learn how to get a free copy of your credit report, and how to dispute errors in your credit history.

Seek Free Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that represents victims of abusive debt collection tactics, credit reporting privacy and accuracy issues and wrongful vehicle repossessions.  Contact Us for a free legal consultation to determine whether your consumer rights have been violated.

7 New Year’s 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 make resolutions, it’s important to set realistic, achievable goals so that you don’t get discouraged. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Create a budget and stick to it

Budgeting, or analyzing spending habits, is the best thing you can do for your finances. When you see how much money is spent on mandatory expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries, or loans, versus non-essential expenses, such as dining out, parties, gifts or vacations, you may find a way to reorganize expenses to make spending cuts, begin saving and start to pay off debt.

Once you’ve determined how much you spend on the necessities, compare what’s left over to your monthly income. Avoid setting budgets that are unrealistic.  You want to establish a budget that you will stick to and be able to feel success.

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 well being.

Seek Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a consumer protection law firm that represents victims with credit reporting problems, those that have received contact from abusive debt collectors, and have had vehicles wrongfully repossessed.  Contact us for a free consultation to determine whether your consumer rights have been violated.

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.

Seek Legal Help

Identity theft victims may need help from a consumer lawyer when collectors begin to call, or there are listings on credit reports that are a result of the theft.  Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that represents consumers against debt collectors and the credit bureaus.  Contact Us for a free evaluation of whether your consumer rights were violated.

What College Students Need to Know about 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 once they take out student loans, or have expenses like utilities and rent.

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.

Tips for Building 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 reflect positively 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.

Tips for Monitoring Credit

Request your Credit Report
Every twelve months you are entitled to obtain a free credit report from each Transunion, Experian and Equifax. It’s important to regularly monitor your reports, even as a student, because there could be errors that negatively affect it. Write for a copy of your report and have it mailed to you.

Dispute Errors on your Credit Report
Although the credit bureaus have similar listings, the information that appears on one report may differ from another.  Be sure to obtain copies of all three reports and review them carefully.  If you find an error on your credit report, be sure to send a written dispute to those credit bureaus. You may also want to dispute the error with the creditor. Be sure to include any documents and relevant information that supports your claim.

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 not only using a small amount of the credit that’s being loaned to you, but that you are using the credit responsibly and paying the amount borrowed.

Seek Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a consumer protection law firm that represents victims with problems involving credit reporting issues, debt collection harassment and vehicle repossessions. Contact Us for a free consultation to discuss your consumer credit issues.  If your rights have been violated, our firm will sue the credit bureau, debt collector or lender at no cost to you.

 

5 Money Mistakes for Students to Avoid

College is stressful enough without having to worry about financial issues. Avoid these five common money mistakes to stay on track with your spending.

1. Not Setting a Budget

There are a lot of expenses when you’re a student. Tuition and textbooks aside, you also need money for things like rent, utilities, and going out with friends. It’s easy to quickly burn through your money without realizing how much you’re spending. This is why it’s so important to set well defined budgets.

Budgets for different spending categories will keep you on track and will help prevent you from spending above your means. Look at your recent transaction history to gauge how much you typically spend on expenses like utilities, groceries, and entertainment. Set a modest and reasonable goal for each category and work on not exceeding your budget.

2. Paying Bills Late

Many students don’t realize that late bill payments can negatively affect their credit. You start to develop credit history right away, so financial irresponsibility during school could have an impact later in life. Credit history is a factor when you’re seeking new lines of credit, applying to rent an apartment, and sometimes even in a potential employment opportunity.

Always pay your bills on time. Include all bill payments in your budget and set reminders so that you don’t lose track during a busy semester.

3. Spending Too Much on Credit Cards

Credit cards are convenient. It’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars without thinking about when you have to pay it back. But overspending on your credit card means you risk spending more than you can afford.

If you only pay the minimum balance each month, you could end up paying excessive interest fees. Spending more than 30% of your available credit can also have a negative effect on your credit overall. For example, your credit score may take a hit if you spend more than $300 on a card that has a credit limit of $1,000.

Keep your credit usage below 30% and always pay off your balance in full and on time every month.

4. Not Paying Off Student Loan Interest During School

If you have student loans, you may be wondering why you should bother making payments while you’re still in school – you aren’t required to, and there’s even a grace period after you graduate for most loans.

Unsubsidized loans start to accrue interest as soon as they’re disbursed. This means that your loan amounts are slowly creeping up even when you’re still in school. Eventually, you’ll have to pay interest on top of this interest.

Depending on your interest rates, it may be entirely manageable to keep up with these payments during school. Small payments each month now could mean thousands of dollars in savings later on.

5. Spending Money on Things You Don’t Need

It’s easy to spend money on items you don’t really need – new clothes for a party, brand new furniture, new cookware. You should have some room in your budget for unexpected expenses and fun purchases, but don’t go overboard.

Before you buy something new, decide if you really need it or if you can find it cheaper elsewhere. Not only will this help you stick to your budget, it will also mean you have fewer things to pack up and move when it comes time to graduate.

Seek Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that represents victims of abusive collection tactics by debt collectors, and those with credit reporting privacy and accuracy issues.  Contact us to discuss your consumer credit concern.

Personal Finance Basics for College Students

The start of a new college semester is a busy and exciting time. As you prepare to begin new classes, it’s important to consider how you’ll manage your finances while you’re in school. Follow these tips to keep your finances in order and avoid any unnecessary additional stress.

Set a Budget

Whether you receive a stipend from financial aid, are working part-time, or get financial help from your parents, it’s important to set a monthly budget to stay on track with your finances. You should budget for mandatory expenses like room and board or rent, utilities, and groceries, but you should also consider how much you can afford to spend on dining out and entertainment. Sticking to a budget will help you stay organized and help ensure that you don’t spend above your means.

Start a Savings Account

If you work during school, make it a goal to save ten percent or more of your income and put it into a savings account. Even if it seems like a small amount, savings will help when it comes time to graduate and find an apartment or begin to pay off student loans. It’s also helpful to have some money saved up in case of an emergency.

Pay Off Loan Interest During School

Many students take out both federal and private loans in order to fund their education. If you have student loans, you likely already know that you’re not required to pay them off until after you graduate, and there is typically a six month grace period following your graduation as well.

However, it’s a good idea to pay off the interest that accrues on your loans while you’re still in school if you have the means to do so. Some of your loans may be subsidized, meaning they won’t accrue interest while you’re still in school, but unsubsidized loans begin to accrue interest from the date that they are issued. Not paying this interest means you’ll eventually have to pay interest on the interest that you didn’t pay previously.

Build Your Credit

It’s important to keep in mind that your credit history will begin to develop right away. Certain bills are included on your credit report, so it’s critical to pay them in full and on time to avoid negative marks on your credit. Student loans will also appear on your credit report and will help you establish positive history as you make payments on time.

In order to secure new lines of credit in the future, a lender will pull your report to determine your creditworthiness. It is possible to get denied for credit if you lack sufficient credit history, so it’s helpful to try to build credit while you’re still in school.

The Credit Card Act of 2009 placed restrictions on individuals under the age of 21 getting a credit card without a cosigner, but secure credit cards are still a good option. A secure credit card requires an initial deposit. This deposit then acts as your available amount of credit. You can also build credit as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card.

Check Your Credit Report Regularly

You can get a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax – every twelve months. Checking your own credit report does not reflect negatively on your credit. You may choose to request a copy from one bureau at a time so that you can check your report several times throughout the year.

Always review your report for errors and inaccurate information. Incorrect listings can have a negative impact on your credit if they aren’t addressed. Dispute any incorrect information with the bureau and with the creditor and provide any documentation that supports your claim.

Successfully managing your finances and building healthy credit requires consistency and time. With these tips you’ll be well on your way to good credit.

Seek Legal Help

Flitter Milz is a nationally recognized consumer protection law firm that represents victims of abusive collection tactics by debt collectors, and those with credit reporting accuracy and privacy issues.  Contact us to discuss your consumer credit concern.  There is no cost for the consultation.