Updated: June 2019

Consumer Action Issues and Positions

Where we stand on our issues of interest

By participating in legislative, regulatory and policy initiatives, Consumer Action ensures that underrepresented consumers have a voice in front of lawmakers and the national media. Each year, Consumer Action takes positions on dozens of bills at the state and national levels and submits comments and testimony on a host of consumer protection issues. We find myriad opportunities to join our allies in pushing back on any efforts to weaken consumer protections and to work with our friends in the corporate world on shared principles of consumer fairness and transparency. In today’s deregulatory climate, informing and protecting consumers has become even more crucial. Below is an alphabetical list of the issues we address and the policy positions that direct our advocacy efforts.

Air travel. The airline industry is a prime example of how consumer protections can stagnate in an unregulated industry. The news has been full of stories about large commercial airlines dragging paying customers off flights, shrinking seats and legroom, forcing families to sit apart, and adding fees for baggage and designated seats. We advocate for fair (reasonable and proportional) fees and additional consumer recompense for delayed flights, and we oppose air traffic control privatization. (In 2018, we reported on unwarranted travel fees and limited airline passengers’ rights.) We call on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to step up and protect consumer safety, service and comfort; ensure price transparency; and enforce fair treatment of passengers. DOT is the only government agency with the authority to ensure that consumers’ interests are protected when they shop for airfares and when they fly. States have no authority, and air passengers have no right to private legal action in the courts. Despite its clear authority and responsibility to the flying public, DOT is failing to protect consumers.

Arbitration, access to justice and class action lawsuits: Arbitration is an alternative method of resolving disputes (outside of court) in which two parties present their side of a complaint to what should be a fair and objective third party. Consumer Action believes that while consumers should be able to opt in to arbitration, they should never be forced into it. Unfortunately, consumers often unwittingly sign a “ripoff clause” in the fine print of cell phone, credit card, banking and other financial contracts that mandates arbitration. Consumer Action speaks out against companies who mandate arbitration, particularly in the face of wrongdoing (e.g., Wells Fargo opening thousands of unwanted and unauthorized credit cards and other financial products in consumers’ names) and commends those (e.g., Google, Microsoft) who move away from forced arbitration (whether in employment contracts or elsewhere). Unfortunately, in 2017, Congress repealed a modest Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule that would have restored consumers’ right to sue via class action lawsuit (which is often prohibited in mandatory arbitration clauses). Despite this setback, Consumer Action continues to push for even stronger new legislation that would create a national law to ban all forced arbitration (such as the Arbitration Fairness Act, anticipated in 2019). In addition, we oppose any state or federal legislation that would deny consumers their day in court.

Automobiles: Auto dealers often sell cars to minority consumers with loans that contain inflated interest rates, known as markups. The CFPB found that these discriminatory pricing practices cost consumers tens of billions of dollars and violate fair lending practices. Yet despite the evidence, leaders in the House and Senate in last year floated bills that would block the CFPB’s attempts to bring fairness and transparency to the auto lending market and restrict its ability to regulate the industry. Consumer Action will fight any such legislation in the 115th Congress.

Consumer Action also is active on the issue of auto title loans: If a consumer does manage to finance an affordable automobile, predatory lenders often can seize the borrower's car title as collateral for the loan and repossess the car to coerce payment. Consumer Action opposes this practice and has written comments to the CFPB encouraging them to strengthen a 2016 proposed rule that would, among other things, rein in the vehicle title loan industry.

Banking and credit: As we’ve seen repeatedly with Wells Fargo, big banks and credit card issuers continue to commit acts that lead to real world repercussions for consumers—unnecessary foreclosures, exorbitant fees and overdraft charges, unnecessary financial products, repossessed cars and damage to consumers’ credit scores. Consumer Action supports federal and state regulators’ continued authority and effort to oversee financial institutions, enforce regulations and reform the banking industry. We oppose any legislation that would defund or defang these agencies (through relaxed regulations, cumbersome review processes, budgeting requirements, etc.). Issues-wise, we oppose any overdraft or other service that is automatically added to a consumer’s bank account without the consumer’s express permission, and we support the widespread availability of savings account and customer-requested credit-based overdraft protection services. We support a fiduciary responsibility for bankers and other financial advisers working with consumer investors. Finally, we actively fight against fraud in the banking industry and oppose any measures to restrict the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) efforts to stop banks from knowingly conducting business with customers who are processing transactions connected with fraud or other illegal activities.

Broadband internet: Consumer Action works to promote policies to ensure that people have access to a fast, affordable and open internet.

Consumer complaints and redress: Consumer Action believes that it should be easy for consumers to “sound the bell” when they face unfair and deceptive practices. We have worked tirelessly to improve the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Consumer Complaint Database. The database provides consumers of financial products and services with the opportunity to report complaints publicly, seek resolution, and benefit from access to firsthand complaint data of other consumers to avoid similar harms. (Consumer Action also endorses a similar portal and database at the Department of Education to help borrowers lodge student loan complaints and problems with for-profit colleges.)

Under the temporary leadership of Mick Mulvaney, the CFPB threatened to ban consumer use of the consumer complaint database. Consumer Action strongly opposes loss of public access to this valuable tool and has urged the Bureau to keep the database available to the public. This database empowers consumers with the ability to publicly report their individual experiences with specific financial firms and to use the information shared in evaluating which firms to do business with.

Community Reinvestment Act: The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is a law that requires banks to invest in the communities in which they do business. Since 1977, CRA has helped to create access to credit, loans and other financial services to meet the credit needs of low-to-moderate-income consumers and to curb lending and housing discrimination. Banks are graded on the level of their financial commitments to local communities. In 2018, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced plans to revise CRA rules. Consumer Action supports the updating of CRA, including applying the law to all lenders, especially those online, expanding the geographic areas in which banks are assessed, involving all bank affiliates in evaluations, analyzing the amount and type of lending made to communities of color, and making bank exam results more delineated and transparent. Consumer Action opposes some of the OCC’s proposals, such as its plan to use “one ratio” to evaluate lenders, which is expected to reduce low-income communities’ access to credit and diminish consumer input in the process. For more information, see Treasure CRA.

Credit reporting and scores: Consumer Action advocates for fairness, transparency and accuracy in credit reporting, and because of this, we back legislation which would protect consumers from flaws in the credit reporting system that could lower their credit scores, raise their interest rates and potentially cost them a mortgage or even tens of thousands of dollars in higher interest payments over time. We also oppose the use of credit reports and scores in all situations where they could become elements of discrimination. We fight against any legislation that would weaken the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). We also oppose any federal bills that would preempt or weaken stronger state laws, and we will fight to protect a private right of action for consumers who have suffered financial and privacy harms due to inaccurate credit information.

Data control and protection (see also "Privacy"): In this brave new digital world of Big Data, Consumer Action believes that all consumers should be able to control, limit or prohibit the sharing of their personally identifiable information, particularly between unrelated companies and for reasons that go beyond the original consumer-approved purpose of the data usage, unless the consumer explicitly "opts in" (agrees) to having their information used for marketing and other purposes unrelated to the delivery of service. Consumer Action supports legislation to protect consumers by requiring reasonable security policies and procedures to protect data containing personal information, and to provide for nationwide notice in the event of a breach. Consumer Action also works to rein in warrantless searches of digital information, illegal and otherwise unapproved surveillance of consumers, unregulated new technologies (e.g., facial recognition) that jeopardize consumer privacy, illegal searches and seizures, and more.

Debt collection: People who owe debts should not be treated like second-class citizens, nor should they have to endure harassment or other illegal and questionable practices by debt collectors. Consumer Action works to promote regulations and legislation that would end well-known abuses and make consumers safe. These abuses include, but are not limited to, reviving the collection of time-barred “zombie” debts after the statute of limitations has run out, pursuing people who don’t owe the debt, collecting debts without account validation, failing to adequately investigate consumer disputes, suing individuals without proper notice and then obtaining default judgments when the individuals don’t show up in court, and leaving voicemail messages that violate consumer protection laws.

FinTech. The term financial technology—“FinTech” for short—refers to the use of computer programs, mobile apps and other technology that enable financial services online or by phone. Startups and existing companies in the market provide banking alternatives, mobile payments, money transfers, loans, fundraising platforms, investing tools, asset management, pay-as-you-go insurance and more. FinTech boosters say the sector holds great potential to expand financial inclusion, empower consumers, and help families and businesses take greater control of their finances.

In early December 2016, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) proposed a plan to allow FinTech companies to become special purpose national banks. Consumer Action has concerns that the OCC plan could permit certain FinTech companies to undermine state consumer protection laws, evade state usury caps, allow poorly underwritten loans, and encourage risky and complex investment products that may not be well understood by investors. Consumer Action believes that FinTech companies that lend money should be subject to the Truth in Lending Act, strong “ability to repay” underwriting standards and state usury laws. In addition, when FinTech companies make use of customer or subscriber data, or pull data from outside sources for underwriting and marketing purposes, they should be required to obtain prior consumer consent before sharing it with third parties. These companies should have strong data retention policies that spell out how long they store data and how they safeguard it. Consumer data should be safely maintained, used only for the services agreed to (unless further, explicit consent is obtained) and subject to transparent disclosures. FinTech companies that buy, collect, use and store consumer data should also be accountable, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, to verify and remove inaccurate information that has been challenged by consumers, as well as provide adverse action notices so that consumers can access the source of the data when they are denied credit.

Insurance: Consumer Action believes that health, life, home and auto insurers should offer truly protective policies, charge reasonable premiums, treat consumers fairly (without discrimination and undue invasions of privacy), and settle all claims and disputes equitably. In accordance with these principles, we’ve urged Congress to investigate and take action to prevent large health insurance company mergers that would further consolidate the market and pose the threat of substantial harm to millions of consumers (through increased costs, decreased quality of service, etc.). In 2016, we joined a coalition to encourage the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) to set a strong standard that recognizes auto insurance as unaffordable when the average premium in a community exceeds two percent of the community's median household income. We also empower consumers to be their own advocates in the insurance marketplace by offering free, multilingual educational materials about the different types of insurance and the pros and cons of purchasing various policies and products.

Income taxes: Not only does Consumer Action work to make our national tax system fairer and more transparent, we also operate under the belief that taxpayer dollars should be used in ways that benefit all consumers. In keeping with this goal, we oppose legislation that siphons your tax dollars into partisan projects at the expense of low-income and vulnerable consumers, and we work to support laws like the "Buffett Rule," which would apply a minimum tax rate of 30 percent on individuals making more than a million dollars a year. (The Buffett Rule is named after Warren Buffett, who has publically stated that it is wrong to make low- and middle-income people pay more in taxes than billionaires like him.) Consumer Action also promotes laws that hamper and prosecute criminals who commit tax scams and fraud, and supports legislation that would allow taxpayers (many of whom do not have access to a computer) the option to continue to receive and file paper returns. We will be monitoring the Internal Revenue Service's Future State initiative in order to prevent unintended consequences for low-income, limited-English-speaking and digitally disconnected consumers.

Language access: Over 25 million U.S. residents, many living in low-income communities and neighborhoods of color, are limited in their English language proficiency. Unfortunately, it’s easier for banks, auto dealers, mortgage lenders and other companies to take advantage of people when they don’t understand the terms and conditions of the products being sold to them. Consumer Action works on behalf of limited English proficient (LEP) consumers to help them navigate the financial system and avoid fraud and other predatory practices. In addition to producing our materials in a number of languages (from Chinese to Vietnamese), we have urged federal regulators to require the translation of key financial documents (such as mortgage paperwork). We also encourage these regulators to improve language access to federal complaint and counseling services (like the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database); offer guidance to federal regulators and financial institutions on language-access standards and translated materials (CFPB Spanish language financial glossary and FHFA mortgage translations); and improve tracking of the language preferences of mortgage applicants. Consumer Action offers free advice and referrals to consumers in English, Spanish and two Chinese dialects (Mandarin and Cantonese) at 415-777-9635. Our online complaint form is available in English and Spanish. (In late 2016, we prepared a special Consumer Action News issue on the topic of language access.)

Medicine and prescription drugs: Consumer Action works to ensure consumer access to necessary and affordable prescription medications, diagnostic and medical procedures, and other treatments deemed appropriate by a consumer’s medical providers. Consumer Action speaks out against barriers to access for low-income, elderly, stigmatized or otherwise underserved populations. Consumer Action works to preserve and enhance the benefits under Medicare Advantage, the managed care option under Medicare that provides cost and additional coverage benefits to many seniors in the U.S.

Mergers and acquisitions: Consumer Action, based on many years of experience, believes that the larger companies get, the less incentive they have to consider the concerns of individual consumers or the benefit of competition in the marketplace. Consolidation in an industry leads to fewer choices for consumers and increases the potential for harmful consumer price-gouging. Merging two or more large customer service facilities often leads to failures to respond appropriately to customers' needs. It is increasingly clear that antitrust authorities have allowed too many mergers in recent years in many industries, including airlines, telecommunications, healthcare and insurance. The creation of mega-corporations also discourages new and innovative startups in the same industries because it is difficult for new entrants to compete with market-dominant behemoths. Because of the potential for negative impact on consumers, we will continue to eye mergers closely. We urge government antitrust officials to thoroughly study the potential impact of merger proposals and to investigate and bring enforcement actions against businesses that abuse their dominant market position.

Military members and veterans: We believe that the servicemembers who have sacrificed so much for this country deserve to be treated with respect, not exploited by predatory lenders, for-profit schools and other corrupt and fraudulent institutions when they are most vulnerable (upon deployment, leaving the military, etc.). We not only provide this population with training and guides to help them and their local advocates take advantage of the many consumer-friendly borrowing and banking options available to servicemembers and veterans, we also pressure Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense to protect key laws like the Military Lending Act (which caps loan interest rates for servicemembers at 36%) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act so that our troops and veterans continue to enjoy legal protection from exorbitant interest rates, harmful loan terms and other bad financial products. We also encourage federal regulators to take action against those who violate these laws.  

Mortgages and housing: The 2008 financial crisis left many people in a precarious housing situation that continues to this day, which is why one of our main priorities at Consumer Action is helping consumers at imminent risk of foreclosure or those struggling to modify their mortgages and keep their housing affordable. As an active member of a major national housing coalition, we’ve urged federal regulators to require ways to escalate imminent financial problems to the forefront in order to prevent people from losing their homes. Thanks to efforts like these, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now requires mortgage servicers to have a process in place to quickly evaluate and resolve pressing mortgage problems. We also support legislative and regulatory initiatives to keep widows and other heirs housed even if their names are not on the home loan title; mandate that buyers receive truthful information on the key features, costs and risks of the mortgage loans they apply for; require lenders to determine if borrowers have the ability to successfully repay loans; prohibit and penalize housing discrimination and redlining; and provide basic loan protections to vulnerable, low-income manufactured-housing residents. Finally, we work to protect the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and to expand access to credit in order to make the dream of buying a home a reality for all who want it.

Net neutrality. Consumer Action works to promote policies to ensure that people have access to a fast, affordable and open internet. Net neutrality ensures that internet service providers don’t discriminate in the provision of online content and applications, and provides for a level playing field for all websites and internet technologies. In late 2017, the Federal Communications Commission, under Chairman Ajit Pai, voted against Obama-era net neutrality protections, allowing ISPs to block or throttle traffic or offer paid “fast lanes” (also known as "paid prioritization"). Consumer Action opposes this decision and continues to fight for the reinstatement of net neutrality (through the courts, if necessary).

Predatory lending: Predatory lenders trap consumers in a cycle of debt that they cannot escape, via short-term, small-dollar (payday) loans with exorbitant annualized interest rates of 300%-plus. When borrowers can't repay the money after a short time, they often choose to take out another loan to cover the old balance, thereby entering a cycle of debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a rule to regulate payday lenders in 2017 and Consumer Action, along with a coalition of consumer advocates, has pushed for the agency to finalize it (as it would require both caps on the number of loans that lenders could issue to consumers in a short time period and sensible “waiting periods” between loans). Unfortunately, in late 2018, the Trump-led CFPB announced its plan to gut another critical part of the rule that would mandate that lenders determine the consumer’s ability to repay (without defaulting on other expenses or taking out additional loans) before they could provide a loan. Consumer Action is pushing back against these efforts to weaken the payday rule or create loopholes that would allow the industry to skirt regulations. Finally, Consumer Action opposes any legislation that would allow the payday industry to avoid stronger federal regulation by pushing weaker industry-backed state bills.

Privacy: Consumer Action has long worked to protect consumer privacy through advocacy and education. We believe that every person has the right to privacy in their homes, their communications, their commercial and financial dealings, and their personal affairs. An important element of the right to privacy is the right to protect one's personal data and to make choices about how it is used for commercial purposes. Fast-paced technological innovations—from wireless communications and security surveillance to commercial tracking and the Internet of Things—have outpaced U.S. privacy laws, leaving significant gaps in privacy protections for U.S. consumers. Consumer Action works with many coalitions and organizations to address areas of concern regarding consumer privacy, including medical privacy, data brokers, social media, security surveillance, internet tracking, geolocation systems and facial recognition, to name a few. Consumer Action supports the European Union’s new data protection law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We seek baseline privacy principles for future U.S. legislation that would give individuals significant control over who may access, share or sell their data online; would grant consumers the opportunity to correct data; and would establish consumer recourse for privacy violations. We oppose any efforts to undermine the ability to protect consumers from the emerging online “privacy divide” that leaves low-income Americans with fewer privacy options than are available to the wealthy (“pay for privacy”). We support these privacy principles and this framework for comprehensive privacy protection and digital rights.

Regulatory agencies: Independent regulatory agencies are critical in protecting consumer interests and keeping businesses honest. Yet elected officials with big ties to the financial industry are especially determined to de-fund and defang the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)—the government regulatory agency created solely to protect consumers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis—by stripping its independence and slashing its budget. We educate the public on the latest attacks against the CFPB and other consumer protection agencies and encourage them to contact Congress to oppose legislation that would weaken their power to protect consumers. We oppose legislation that hampers the capacity of these agencies to protect the environment, the financial system, public health and safety, and more by making them susceptible to outside political interference and control. 

Scams and frauds: Consumer Action works to educate consumers, the media and legislators on the latest in scams and frauds, particularly through our free monthly SCAM GRAM e-newsletter. We actively monitor the fraudulent schemes discovered by regulators, consumers and the news media and participate in a variety of legislative efforts that, for example, stop data breaches that jeopardize consumer information, thereby making consumers vulnerable to ID theft and financial crimes; ensure that the U.S. Department of Justice can “choke off” access to bank payments for entities that are defrauding consumers; and protect consumers from pyramid schemes.

Student loans: Student loan borrowers must not be misled when it comes to the legitimacy of schools and the value of the degrees they offer, their career prospects upon graduation or the terms of their student loans. Consumer Action supports federal efforts to end the unfair special bankruptcy treatment for lenders who saddle students and their families with high-risk, high-cost private student loans. In particular, we support strong federal gainful employment regulations (in effect as of January 2017) and defense to repayment rules because we believe that fraudulent, poorly performing for-profit programs should lose eligibility for federal funding. (Gainful employment rules ensure that schools provide students with adequate credentials for jobs that are actually available.) We also believe that private student loans should be eligible for income-based repayment programs and loan forgiveness for public service. Finally, we support and help advise federal regulators in their efforts to create a user-friendly, effective student loan complaint system and to provide borrowers with a personalized guide to student loan repayment options.

Telemedicine: While it would be ideal if every citizen had convenient, affordable access to doctors and other healthcare professionals, this is not the reality in the U.S. today. Consumer Action believes that telemedicine—which encompasses a wide variety of access points, including online, email, phone, electronic medical records, etc.—can benefit rural communities, low-income families, busy workers and parents, homebound seniors and those who lack transportation options. As issues emerge that threaten or limit telemedicine choices, we will evaluate the threats and engage on a case-by-case basis.

Telephones (wireless and landline) and internet: In these challenging economic times, Consumer Action works to ensure that telephone and internet services remain understandable, accessible and affordable for low- and moderate-income families. We help protect critical national programs like Lifeline, which subsidizes phone and internet service for low-income consumers (who need help paying their bills). Accordingly, we strongly oppose any legislation that would pose a risk to the Lifeline program (either by slashing its budget, adding language that would make certain populations ineligible for the program or removing coverage for widely-used telecommunication channels like mobile voice). Consumer Action also is an active member of multiple national coalitions that help guide the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission in creating sensible regulations and enforcement actions to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls and texts, broadband and telephone privacy violations, and abusive data caps and zero rating plans that violate net neutrality.

Television and cable: Consumer Action wants consumers to enjoy freedom and choice when it comes to cable and satellite TV service. Unfortunately, pay-TV providers have been opposing sensible rules that would curb leasing fees for set-top boxes and rein in pricey cable bundles (that include channels many TV viewers do not want). Cable companies, which often sell their packages for monthly prices that top $200, are also allowed to tack on leasing fees of an average of $231 per family, per year. Consumer Action supports a Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-proposed rule to allow the sale of equipment that consumers could buy for a one-time price from any vendor they choose. Consumer Action, acting as a member of the Consumer Video Choice Coalition, has been an important influence in the FCC’s decision-making process, promoting policies that would liberate consumers from the set-top box monopoly, lower prices, and create more choice and opportunity for small and/or independent programmers looking to grow their audiences.

Vision rights: Consumer Action supports the ability of consumers to purchase glasses and contact lenses from the retailer of their choice—online, in stores or over the phone. We work to oppose legislative and regulatory proposals at the federal and state levels that would limit or circumvent the Federal Trade Commission's Contact Lens Rule. In 2018, we added the Vision Action Center to our website to publicize these issues.

Voting rights: Consumer Action opposes any efforts that create obstacles to voter registration, curtail early voting opportunities, or impose strict and unreasonable voter identification requirements. These efforts, in our view, are usually perpetuated by political extremists in order to block perceived opponents from their fundamental right to vote. We will speak out whenever necessary to keep voting free, fair and accessible.

If you would like to know more about Consumer Action's positions, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), director of national priorities, by clicking her name to send an email or by calling the DC office at 202-544-3088. We welcome your feedback.  

(Note: Revised March 1, 2019.)

 

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