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

Statement on Procter & Gamble’s New Preservative Tracker in Personal Care Products

Personal care product giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently unveiled a new preservative tracker, which lets consumers know which preservatives are included in various categories of P&G’s products, such as baby wipes, skin care, and hair care products. Consumers can search the tracker by ingredient or by product type.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2016

For over 30 years, the WISPIRG Foundation has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

This year, WISPIRG Foundation staff examined toys recalled by the CPSC between January 2015 and October 2016 and looked at whether they appeared to still be available for sale online. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Stop Payday Loan Sharks: Submit Your Comment Here | Peter Skopec

This opportunity doesn’t come around very often: we have a chance to stop the payday loan debt trap. Submit a public comment in favor of a strong payday loan rule here.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

National Payday Lending Rule Could Protect Wisconsinites from Predatory Loans

Today, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unveiled a proposal for a new national rule on payday and car title lending that has the potential to protect Wisconsinites from predatory high-interest loans. At a press conference in Eau Claire, consumer advocates joined faith and community leaders to highlight the harms of payday lending in Wisconsin. WISPIRG, the interfaith organization JONAH, and Citizen Action also underlined the importance of a strong federal rule to rein in abusive lending practices, and urged the CFPB to prevent loopholes from weakening the rule.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Parents Beware - Many Toys Still Toxic, Hazardous

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) announced today in its 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report. 

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Parents Beware - Many Toys Still Toxic, Hazardous

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) announced on Tuesday in its 24th annual Trouble in Toyland report.  The group also highlighted the need for state action to protect children from bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical linked to cancer, diabetes, early onset puberty, obesity and hyperactivity that is commonly found in baby bottles and sippy cups.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Report Details Economic Stimulus Potential of Green Buildings and Energy Efficiency

Aggressive energy saving policies would provide for ongoing economic stimulus, saving consumers money, creating jobs and driving Wisconsin’s economy, according to a new report released today by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG).

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Retailers Misleading Consumers on the Digital Television (DTV) Transition

In one year, 22 million Americans who rely on free over-the-air analog broadcasting – including many elderly and other vulnerable populations – will be at risk of losing access to TV, which for many is a primary source of news and emergency information as well as entertainment.

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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

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.

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. 

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