Consumer Action INSIDER - May 2013

 

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What people are saying

It was a pleasure attending Consumer Action's MoneyWi$e roundtable. Our team made some valuable connections in addition to hearing some unique approaches [to financial education]. We're looking forward to expanding use of the program to more community centers in the near future. — Jana Houston, Portfolio Resident Services, Inc., Houston, TX

Did you know?

Today's manufactured homes are not your granddad's doublewide. In the U.S., more than 17 million people live in manufactured homes and still more could benefit from learning about this more affordable pathway to homeownership. Check out CFED's Innovations in Manufactured Homes for facts about manufactured housing, links to recent research, local statitstics and resources for current and prospective homeowners.

Planning begins for Consumer Action’s 42nd anniversary

In honor of its 42nd anniversary, Consumer Action is celebrating its hallmark multilingual consumer education and outreach. By speaking the language of the people we serve, we are able to make a vast difference in the lives of disadvantaged consumers.

Our annual cocktail awards reception will take place Oct. 22 at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC. This year’s Consumer Excellence Awards for government, community and media have been chosen to spotlight our theme of multilingual consumer education.

This year our honorees are:

  • Luis Megid, national correspondent for Noticiero Univision, who informs Spanish-speaking residents with “news they can use”;
  • the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s language access team, responsible for helping federal government agencies fulfill their multilingual service obligations under the Civil Rights Act; and
  • the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, a coalition of four preeminent Asian American/Pacific Islander community justice organizations.

This event is our only fundraiser of the year. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, visit our website.

Click here to view past years’ honorees.

Credit Resource Sheet available for trainings

Consumer Action’s Outreach department staffers enjoy spreading useful financial information at train-the-trainer events, community presentations and local fairs and festivals. But they don’t always enjoy lugging tons of brochures that might be needed to answer questions.

That’s why Nelson Santiago, a Consumer Action community outreach manager, developed a new resource sheet to help trainers get valuable information into the hands of credit workshop participants. The two-page resource sheet, titled Resources for Good Credit, compiles publications related to building and improving credit. It allows the workshop leader to give consumers lots of information without having to carry potentially overwhelming amounts of literature to every workshop.

Santiago relied on the new resource sheet during a recent workshop at a Los Angeles public library. A workshop participant wanted more information about whether paying a monthly fee for credit protection and monitoring services made sense. Santiago responded with suggestions for free and low-cost alternatives, including free annual credit reports and “freezing” one’s credit file. The new resource sheet allowed Santiago to point consumers to a listing for Identity Theft Monitoring Services from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which helps consumers decide whether it’s worth it to pay for monitoring.

Other participants in Santiago's workshop raised questions about paying very old debts. The resource sheet came to the rescue with an FTC resource called Time-Barred Debts.

“It's a short and simple sheet that can save workshop leaders the time and effort of compiling their own resource list,” said Santiago, who encourages community-based trainers to regularly check Consumer Action’s website for new resources. “We want to make it easier for our network partners to deliver valuable information to consumers.”

Hotline Chronicles: Timeshares: Just say no!

Karmen* from Connecticut contacted Consumer Action’s hotline about a timeshare contract she had signed for a Caribbean resort. Timeshares are joint property ownership schemes where “owners” pay hefty down payments averaging $19,000 as well as ongoing annual maintenance charges in return for the right to use a property as a vacation home a week or two per year.

Karmen, like most timeshare buyers, attended a high-pressure sales event while on vacation in return for freebies such as a “free” day’s Jeep rental or restaurant meal. Timeshare salespeople hang out at airports and on the beach hoping to snag susceptible consumers.

Karmen attended a sales presentation and signed a contract. “I tried to cancel this timeshare hours after I "purchased" it. I found out they lied about every single detail in the contract. They will not answer emails or phone calls. I will not make a single payment. They are scam artists and liars.”

A hallmark of timeshare salespeople is convincing you to feel pressure. “This offer’s only good for today. Act fast or lose out.” This is the way they convince consumers to sign contracts because they know that if given the time to read the fine print and reflect, most people will run away.

As much sympathy as we have for Karmen and others like her that fall for timeshare pitches, the best way to avoid this situation is to just say no when you are approached and walk away. Since most vacationers have encountered timeshare salespeople at one place or another, it’s a good idea to think in advance about how you’ll handle such come-ons. Here are few tips to consider:

  • The salespeople might be offering freebies, but envision the time you’ll have to spend away from the beach or other sights, usually in a dreary conference room. Your time is worth money.
  • For $20,000 you and your family could have five or six years’ worth of annual vacations, with no ongoing maintenance fees.
  • Don’t be afraid to appear rude. Say “No, thank you” and mean it. Walk away.
  • This might be a good time for a “white lie.” Say you are leaving tomorrow. Or tell them you already have a timeshare and you can’t get rid of it.
  • Accepting free alcoholic drinks from timeshare salespeople is an especially bad idea. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and many consumers have reported signing timeshare contracts after a few strong ones.

Another major problem with timeshares is that they are notoriously hard to resell. Some services promising to help timeshare owners unload their shares have turned out to be scams. They ask for several hundred dollars in fees and run off with the money. Even when consumers use legitimate resale services, the units tend not to sell.

Vacationers should know that some countries have laws that allow you to void timeshare contracts within a certain period of time. However, you need to act quickly in most cases. In Mexico, for example, you have five days to “rescind” (cancel) a timeshare contract. If you sign a contract and have buyer’s remorse, immediately contact the tourism board of the country and ask for advice. If you used a credit card for the down payment, contact your card issuer to ask when and how you can reverse or dispute the charge.

In the U.S., many states allow U.S. timeshare buyers to rescind the contracts within a certain period, ranging from 3-15 days depending on the state. Contact your state Attorney General’s office for more information.

There is a wealth of information on the Internet about the pros and cons of timeshares. Start with Timeshare Insights, a website run by Lisa Ann Schreier, author of Timeshare Vacations for Dummies, who calls herself the “Timeshare Crusader.” Elliott.org, virtual home of the syndicated travel columnist Christopher Elliott, is a great resource for all-round travel issues, including common scams and how to avoid them.

*Not this consumer’s real name.

Kitchen Table Economics brings financial literacy home

Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry took part in a Washington Post Live discussion titled “What Should Everyone Know for Their Personal Financial Success? A discussion of tools and resources for consumers” at The Washington Post on April 16. The panel, part of the “Kitchen Table Economics” event, was moderated by The Post’s Mary Jordan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and also featured Michelle Singletary, The Post’s personal finance columnist; Gail Hillebrand, associate director of consumer education and engagement at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and Stan Hinden, an author and financial writer. 

The financial experts were convened to discuss how to better educate consumers on wise spending and saving and to share their favorite money management resources. Panelists discussed financial tips, sharing advice on the best ways to grow your money and avoid common pitfalls. The event was featured in The Washington Post Sunday Edition on April 28. 

The Washington Post Live discussion was sponsored by Chase Blueprint, which on the same day announced a new initiative to help consumers with “mindful spending.” The Resource Center for Mindful Spending website features a video with tips from Sherry on managing your credit and spending.

Earlier that morning, a panel on the state of Americans’ spending and saving featured Nick Bourke, director of the Safe Small-Dollar Loans Research Projects at Pew Charitable Trusts, Rachael Schneider of the Center for Financial Services Innovation, Dallas Salisbury of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, and Greg McBride of Bankrate.com.

Helping over-50 entrepreneurs stay in business

Consumer Action was on hand when the U.S. Small Business Administration and AARP teamed up to kick off National Mentor Month, targeted at “Encore Entrepreneurs” over the age of 50. The April event, which addressed “Starting and Financing a Business in San Francisco,” was held at the Entrepreneur Center at the SBA’s San Francisco district office.

Mentor Month is part of a larger effort by the SBA and AARP to promote entrepreneurship among people age 50 and over. With one in four individuals aged 44 to 70 interested in becoming an entrepreneur, and 63% of Americans planning to work during retirement, small business ownership is an attractive option.

Consumer Action’s Audrey Perrott, associate director of outreach and training, distributed our MoneyWi$e and Digital Dollars publications and met individually with participants to discuss how to establish a micro business, the importance of improving credit and how to navigate the online economy. About a third of the participants represented minority communities, and this group included about two-thirds women.

The SBA and AARP offered free classes to interested entrepreneurs all last month. In the first week alone, 136 participants were reached through classes at the SBA’s San Francisco district office. Seminars were offered on website basics, financing a business, the top seven characteristics of successful business owners, the basics of business law and more.

Volunteers from the community teach all of the classes offered by the SBA Entrepreneur Center. Perrott was asked to come back again to volunteer her teaching skills. In addition, Consumer Action’s educational materials proved popular. The SBA’s initial order was depleted during the first week and more were provided.

Visa Inc. hosts Financial Literacy & Education Summit

The marble halls of the Federal Reserve of Chicago resounded with the voices of “Money Smart” kids and global financial journalists on April 17, when Visa Inc. and the Federal Reserve Money Smart financial education program held events in observance of Money Smart Week (April 20-27). Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry was a guest at the event, which began with panels featuring young winners and finalists in the Money Smart Kid Essay Contest sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Dayton Melaniphy, a Naperville, IL fifth-grader, beat out hundreds of financially savvy middle school students to win the Money Smart Kid Essay Contest. His essay featured a dog and cat named “Investment” and “Expense” who team up to convince village officials to use money earmarked for the stock market for a much better investment—a new public park.

“It was inspiring to hear from the young panelists about how much importance they place on money management and savings,” said Sherry. “I wish it was possible to distill their determination and give it to those who have trouble managing their money.”

Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, delivered the keynote address.

Two panels featuring financial journalists from Vietnam, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil as well as bankers and regulators from Pakistan, Botswana, Australia and the U.S. discussed ways to improve financial opportunities for women worldwide.

“It is imperative that governments and the private sector collaborate to ensure people everywhere have the tools and resources they need to achieve financial success,” said Jason Alderman, senior director of global financial education for Visa Inc. “The government officials gathered for this summit are a clear indication that financial literacy remains a vital public policy issue the world over.”

At the summit, Visa released research findings from their global Financial Literacy Barometer, conducted with 25,000 participants in 27 countries. Among the findings, responses show that women are far more determined than men to ensure that their children grow up financially literate. The data found that women spend nearly three more weeks a year than men talking to and educating their own children about money management.

The day’s event closed with a visit from Dick Butkus, a former Chicago Bears player, who joined two teams of local high schoolers to coach them in Financial Football, an interactive personal finance quiz game developed by Visa Inc. as a financial literacy tool. The game can be played for free online.

Butkus talked about the importance of finance and budgeting even at a young age. He told the young people that it was crucial for them—and even for today’s millionaire football pros—to plan for retirement and long-term goals. “Eighty percent of the guys playing NFL today are going to go bankrupt in three years... It’s like your career, you think it’ll never end.”

Financial Literacy Fair at California State Capitol

For the third year, Consumer Action’s Outreach team participated in the Office of State Controller John Chiang’s Financial Literacy Fair at the California State Capitol. The event is held each year to kick off financial literacy month. The co-sponsors of this sixth annual April event were Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Department of Corporations Commissioner Jan Owen.

“Improving financial literacy in California is one of the best things we can do to improve the lives of our families and the fiscal health of our communities,” said State Controller Chiang.

Consumer Action’s Audrey Perrott and Jamie Woo distributed our publications and answered questions from consumers in English and Chinese. Some of the questions that were asked most frequently are:

The consumers and community partners that visited the Consumer Action table thanked the women for their information and for the materials provided in multiple languages.

Seven financial institutions, approximately 10 community-based organizations and 12 government agencies participated in the fair. The financial institutions included a mix of national banks and credit unions. The community-based organizations included a mix of credit counseling, advocacy, housing, education and supportive services providers. Some of the government agencies that attended included the California Student Aid Commission, the Department of Financial Institutions, the Department of Real Estate and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Each organization had a literature table on the north steps of the State Capitol, where they assisted state employees, local residents and employees of local businesses. More than 100 people showed up.

How aging affects learning: Strategies for teaching seniors

Can you teach old dogs new tricks? Research suggests that the motivation to learn does not dwindle with age, only the speed at which information is absorbed does.

Physical and cognitive changes that take place as a person ages can have an effect on learning. An understanding of the changes that occur with age and learning how to adapt strategies to accommodate these changes is crucial to the success of the adult educator or trainer.

Dr. Raymond J. Wlodkowski, adult educator, psychologist and professor emeritus at Regis University in Denver, in his book Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn recommends that trainers be mindful of the needs of participants over 65 to design an educational training program that enhances their learning. Dr. Wlodkowski flags the following considerations:

  • Reaction time. Due to changes in the central nervous system, older learners may require more time to learn new things because their reaction time has slowed. Allowing learners to control the pace of learning and their exposure to educational materials is an excellent strategy for accommodating any decrease in reaction time. For example, a decline in vision and hearing may be a serious problem for older learners, so instead of giving them five to ten minutes to extract information from a brochure, case study or activity, allow them to raise their hand when they’re ready.
  • Translation. In addition to hearing loss, as people age they may also develop a “translation” problem. Rapid speech as well as very soft or high-pitched sounds become more difficult for older learners to decipher. Moderating the speed and tone of your presentation by speaking slowly and distinctly can solve this issue. Instructors should also be mindful of dropping their voices and eating or drinking when presenting to older learners. Repeating or rephrasing important information throughout the training is another effective strategy.
  • Memory. According to the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing, the greatest memory difficulties for older learners occur with meaningless learning, complex learning and the learning of new things that require reassessment. In her book Adults as Learners, K. Patricia (“Pat”) Cross, a longtime scholar of educational research, offers several suggestions for helping older learners with memorization: (a) Present new information in ways that are meaningful and relevant; (b) Include teaching aides such as mnemonics (memorable phrases that help participants recall information), note-taking guides and checklists to help older learners organize and relate new material to prior knowledge; and (c) Present one idea at a time, and repeat, repeat, repeat. The more often we repeat (or practice) an action, the more quickly we develop a habit.
  • Interaction. Make learning fun and interactive. Older learners better retain what they have learned when learning is exciting, lively and informal.

Low-cost (and even free) opportunities for advanced learning for seniors exist at many colleges and universities. Senior citizens can audit courses, and while no credit is awarded for audited courses, older students can work as much or as little as they want. Just fill out an application and pay an administrative fee. If space is available, you’re in. Here are two examples: At Hunter College, residents of New York State who are age 60 and older pay about $80 per semester to audit classes. The Senior Citizen Non-Degree Auditor Program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. charges $50 per course for residents age 65 and older.

Another important facet of training older learners is capitalizing on their extensive life experiences. Older learners have accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that can be a rich resource for learning—for themselves and for others. As Robert Frost once wrote, “The evening knows what the morning never suspected.”

Resources:

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action is a non-profit organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial and consumer literacy and advocating for consumer rights in both the media and before lawmakers to promote economic justice for all. With the resources and infrastructure to reach millions of consumers, Consumer Action is one of the most recognized, effective and trusted consumer organizations in the nation.

Consumer education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of educational resources. The organization’s extensive library of free publications offers in-depth information on many topics related to personal money management, housing, insurance and privacy, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. At Consumer-Action.org, visitors have instant access to important consumer news, downloadable materials, an online “help desk,” the Take Action advocacy database and nine topic-specific subsites. Consumer Action also publishes unbiased surveys of financial and consumer services that expose excessive prices and anti-consumer practices to help consumers make informed buying choices and elicit change from big business.

Community outreach. With a special focus on serving low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of nearly 7,500 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial and consumer education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Consumer Action’s network is the largest and most diverse of its kind.

Advocacy. Consumer Action is deeply committed to ensuring that underrepresented consumers are represented in the national media and in front of lawmakers. The organization promotes pro-consumer policy, regulation and legislation by taking positions on dozens of bills at the state and national levels and submitting comments and testimony on a host of consumer protection issues. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

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