Updated: December 2020

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 bills at the state and national levels and submits comments and testimony on 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 like-minded business interests on shared principles of consumer fairness and transparency. After years of deregulation and the roll-back of critical consumer protections under the Trump administration, informing and protecting consumers has become even more crucial. Below is an alphabetical list of the issues we address and the policy positions that inform our advocacy efforts.

If you would like to know more about Consumer Action's positions, contact Linda Sherry, director of national priorities, by clicking her name to send an email or by leaving a phone message for the D.C. office at 202-544-3088. We welcome your feedback.

Air travel: The airline industry is a prime example of how consumer protections can stagnate in an unregulated industry. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the news was 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. Since the pandemic began, we have fought for full ticket-price refunds (not vouchers) for travelers booked on cancelled flights as well as those who simply do not feel safe to fly. We continue to advocate for fair (reasonable and proportional) fees and additional consumer recompense for delayed flights, and we oppose air traffic control privatization. We call on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in the Biden administration to ensure 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, the DOT has failed 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 agree to binding arbitration in clauses buried in the fine print of cell phone, credit card, banking and other financial contracts. Consumer Action speaks out against companies who force consumers into arbitration, particularly in the face of corporate wrongdoing. 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 strong legislation that would create a national law to ban all forced arbitration. 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. Consumer Action continues to press for a legislative ban on the practice and for bringing fairness and transparency to the auto lending market.

Auto title loans: Consumer Action has taken every opportunity to oppose short-term, high-interest loans that prey on often low-income car owners who need cash fast to pay bills, manage debt or cope with an emergency. These loans carry annualized interest rates as high as 300%, and borrowers who cannot pay back the loan can lose their vehicles. Since having an auto is crucial for many workers, participation in these loans can lead to unemployment and poverty. Instead, we press the mainstream lending industry and the burgeoning financial technology (FinTech) industry to offer fairly priced loans to help consumers weather financial distress.

Banking and credit: Big banks and credit card issuers must work to assist their customers in distress and to help them avoid unnecessary foreclosures, exorbitant fees and overdraft charges, useless “add-on” financial products, and repossessed cars. Consumer Action supports federal and state regulators’ continued authority and efforts to oversee financial institutions, enforce regulations and bring more consumer-friendly practices to the banking industry. We oppose any legislation that would defund or defang financial regulators (through relaxed rules, 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 accounts and customer-requested, credit-based overdraft protection services. We support a fiduciary responsibility for bankers and other financial advisers working with consumer investors.

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.

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. During the Trump administration, Consumer Action opposed ill-guided attempts to weaken the CRA and limit affordable lending by banks in underserved communities. We will continue to press for robust CRA requirements so that banks lend to borrowers and small businesses in the communities where they are located and use all possible tools to address persistent racial disparities in lending. As banks expand their businesses through technology (FinTech), CRA requirements must be broadened to prevent them from using technology to increase services to lucrative customers at the expense of low-income and minority communities.

COVID-19: The pandemic has brought unprecedented crisis and disruption to the lives of consumers across the nation. Many employees have shifted to remote working; however, that isn’t possible for the majority of service industry workers, especially people of color, who disproportionately fill the positions that are deemed “essential,” such as grocery store clerks, delivery truck drivers, warehouse employees, home health aides, and transit and sanitation workers. Without adequate health insurance, liberal sick leave policies and emergency savings, these workers continue to put their lives at risk, because it is better than the alternatives (unemployment, eviction, and starvation). Restaurant and retail closures have devastated service industry jobs, leading to mass layoffs, requiring many to subside on limited unemployment insurance payments that will eventually run out. Consumer Action immediately recognized the need and began to provide information about financial relief and recovery resources to individuals and families devastated by the pandemic. Our advocacy team has responded with our allies by urging people in power to help affected individuals with stimulus funds, foreclosure and eviction relief, college loan forbearance, expanded affordable broadband access and other public programs to help them weather the crisis and to better withstand future financial shocks.  

Credit reporting and scores: Consumer Action advocates for fairness, transparency and accuracy in credit reporting. We oppose the use of credit reports and scores in all situations where their use could result in 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 our 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 use of the data, 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 select legislation to protect consumers by requiring reasonable security policies and procedures to protect data containing personal information and mandating 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, “parking” bogus debts on consumer credit files, 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. We believe these companies hold potential to expand financial inclusion, empower consumers, and help families and businesses take greater control of their finances. Consumer Action believes that FinTech companies that lend to consumers or hold their money should be subject to all federal and state consumer protection and safety and soundness regulations (currently, not all FinTech companies are subject to these laws). In addition, FinTech companies that make use of customer or subscriber data, or pull data from outside sources for underwriting and marketing purposes, 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.

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. Consumer Action also works to protect the right of taxpayers (many of whom do not have access to a computer) to continue to receive and file paper returns, and we monitor the Internal Revenue Service's initiatives to steer people into online filing in order to prevent unintended consequences for low-income, limited-English-speaking and digitally disconnected consumers. Since online filing has led to frauds that target and take taxpayer refunds, we support robust anti-fraud efforts to protect taxpayers.

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. We 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.

Investments and retirement savings accounts: We all want to believe that the financial adviser we turn to for advice has our best interests at heart. Unfortunately, the financial marketplace often lacks clear rules surrounding these professionals’ “fiduciary responsibility” to the consumer. What’s worse, Wall Street, and the banking industry at large, often are in opposition to the national rules created by the Dodd-Frank Act (passed in 2010 to prevent the type of financial risk-taking that led to the 2008 financial crisis). While the fact is often lost as companies scramble for profits, investors are the foundation of the financial and securities markets. Those who save money should have opportunities to safely invest their money in regulated companies. This is why Consumer Action works to ensure that investor protections remain strong and that the agencies that regulate the financial services industry and protect consumers do not pass rules that weaken consumer protections and put individuals’ savings in jeopardy. In addition, our educational materials provide consumers with basic and objective information to help them make informed savings and investment decisions.

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 financial institutions on language-access standards and translated materials; and improve tracking of the language preferences of mortgage applicants.

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 and vulnerable populations. Consumer Action works to preserve and enhance the benefits under Medicare Advantage, the managed care option under Medicare that provides cost savings 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 perceive the benefit of competition in the marketplace. Consolidation in an industry leads to fewer choices for consumers and increases the potential for 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 retail, airlines, telecommunications, health care, pharmaceuticals 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-dominating 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 work 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 and those struggling to modify their mortgages to keep their housing affordable. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to bring about another round of foreclosures and evictions. As an active member of a major national housing coalition, we’ve urged federal regulators to require loan servicers to escalate imminent financial crises in order to prevent people from losing their homes. Thanks to efforts like these, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now requires mortgage servicing companies to have a process in place to quickly evaluate and resolve pressing payment problems. We’ve also supported legislative and regulatory initiatives to protect renters from eviction; keep widows and other heirs housed even if their names are not on the home title or mortgage; 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 the loans they request; 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.

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, in 2020, an inadequate rule to regulate payday lenders, in which it removed strong borrower ability-to-repay standards proposed under the Obama administration. Consumer Action continues to press for stronger regulation of payday lenders and opposes any legislation that would allow the payday lending industry to avoid stronger federal regulation by pushing weaker industry-backed state bills.

Privacy (see also “Data control and protection”). 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, financial technology and the rise of digital products (Internet of Things)—have outpaced U.S. privacy laws, leaving significant gaps in privacy protections for U.S. consumers. Consumer Action works with key digital rights allies 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. 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 that 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”) or that employ artificial intelligence mechanisms in ways that result in discriminatory practices by business and law enforcement.

Regulatory agencies: Independent regulatory agencies are critical in protecting consumer interests and keeping businesses honest. From 2016 to 2020, elected officials with ties to the financial industry worked to defund and defang the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal regulatory agency created solely to protect consumers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. 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 independent regulatory agencies to protect Americans in such areas as the environment, the financial system, and public health and safety 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 oppose legislative efforts that would allow practices that jeopardize consumer information and make consumers more vulnerable to ID theft and financial crimes.

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 believe that fraudulent, poorly performing for-profit programs that do not provide students with adequate credentials for actual jobs should lose eligibility for federal funding. We also believe that private student loans should be eligible for the same types of income-based repayment and loan forgiveness for public service programs that apply to federal loans.

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. The COVID-19 pandemic has moved the needle forward on widespread acceptance and use of telemedicine, which encompasses a wide variety of access points, including online, email, phone, electronic medical records, etc. However, the lack of affordable broadband has hampered benefits for rural communities, low-income families and seniors. Consumer Action works diligently to support and protect federal and state Lifeline subsidies that have helped millions of low-income households stay connected, and we advocate for widespread deployment of speedy broadband capability in rural and underserved areas.

Telephones (wireless and landline) and internet: As previously noted, 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 eligible low-income consumers. 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 participates in 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 a fair and neutral internet.

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 opposed 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. On top of that, mandatory “surcharges” levied in addition to pay-TV rates, for items such as “Regional sports surcharge fees” of up to $12 per month (even if you don’t watch sports) and “broadcast TV fees” of up to $11 per month, grossly inflate consumer bills. Consumer Action will continue to work to ensure fairer pay-TV options and to teach consumers how they can “cut the cord” on pay-TV.

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. (For more about this, see our Vision Action Center.)

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.

(Note: Revised Dec. 10, 2020)

 

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