Consumer Action INSIDER - January 2018

 

Table of Contents

 

What people are saying

Thank you again for the invitation and travel scholarship (awarded to Navicore Solutions) to attend your National Consumer Empowerment Conference. The conference was great, as usual, and Consumer Action staff is always amazing. I learned a lot of great information to bring back to my community to share. Thank you as well for all the great free resources you always provide to your partners! — Janice Parker, Illinois Relationship Manager, Navicore Solutions

Did you know?

If you didn’t like one or more of your gifts this holiday season, many retailers are offering extended holiday return windows, allowing gifts bought from November through December to be returned until mid- to late-January. Check out Consumer World’s “2017 Return Policies: Some Stores Naughty, Most Nice” for a rundown of noteworthy or new return policies as well as a list of big chains with generous regular or holiday return deadlines for in-store (and, in some cases, online) purchases.

Consumers learned to invest at ‘Investor Bootcamp’

The Alliance for Investor Education (AIE) sponsored a free event for investors in early December. During the afternoon, AIE members, federal and state regulators and consumer advocates participated in three panels to help attendees learn to set investing goals, assess risk tolerance, select advisers and investments, and avoid falling victim to fraud. The public event featured representatives from the Investor Protection Trust, CFP Board of Standards, CFA Institute, FINRA, The Public Investors Arbitration Bar Foundation, the American Association of Individual Investors, the Investment Company Institute Education Foundation, Consumer Action and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.

“There’s an opportunity for everyone to become an investor,” said Consumer Action’s Linda Sherry. “I firmly believe that having a good investment professional, having a good adviser, is key.”

Sherry went on to advise listeners to find a representative who is a “fiduciary”—a professional who is obligated to act in the investor’s best interest. But not just any fiduciary will do, said Sherry, because “you’ve got to check them out” using available resource like FINRA’s free BrokerCheck, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure database, and information available from your state insurance regulators. Also, make sure the firm is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which protects against the loss of cash, stocks and bonds held by customers if the member brokerage firm fails.

Sherry also advised attendees to find a financial planner with a trustworthy professional designation. “There are many designations, and some aren’t worth placing your trust in,” she noted. To learn more about the designations you might encounter when seeking a financial planner, Sherry recommended FINRA’s professional designation lookup tool. (Note, though, that FINRA does NOT officially approve of or endorse any professional credential or designation.) Sherry said she finds the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards to be one of the more robust certifications. Learn more at the CFP Board website.

Sherry suggested that beginning investors also check out “robo-advisers” offering automated investments programs. These advisers can cost less and require smaller minimum investments than full-service brokerage firms. NerdWallet compared well-known robo-advisers last year. “But all my standard caveats for doing your due diligence still apply,” Sherry added.

Live videos of all three of the Bootcamp panels can be found on the Alliance for Investor Education website.

Bank On San Francisco connects consumers with checking, savings accounts

When people don’t have accounts at banks or credit unions, they’re vulnerable to financial threats like check-cashing services that saddle them with sky-high service fees and predatory lenders that trap them in high-interest payday loans. And because they keep their money in cash, a loss, theft or disaster could devastate them financially.

In 2005, officials in San Francisco looked into the number of local households living without a checking or savings account and discovered that approximately 50,000 households were “unbanked.” In response, it opened the Bank On San Francisco program in 2006.

During the last two quarters of 2017, Consumer Action’s Audrey Perrott and two of our network partners, Mercy Housing and Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative (along with their clients and other San Francisco stakeholders), have provided input on marketing materials for the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment’s Bank On program.

"It is important for community-based organizations such as Mercy Housing and the Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative to provide input and engage their clients in the Bank On San Francisco program and marketing design process because their clients are ultimately going to be the end users of the products and services,” Perrott said. “By considering consumer input early on, the Office of Financial Empowerment ensures that information presented to unbanked and underbanked consumers is culturally relevant, user-friendly and meets their needs."

Since Bank On San Francisco launched in 2006, more than 75,000 San Franciscans have opened safe and affordable bank accounts and entered the financial mainstream. The Office of Financial Empowerment staff is preparing to re-launch the campaign.

Perrott caught up with Jade Moy, a program manager at the financial empowerment office, to ask some questions about the successful program.

Have you always engaged community stakeholders in your program design and marketing strategy?

Yes! We work closely with the community partners that make up our Bank On SF coalition to make sure that Bank On San Francisco meets the needs of their clients and their communities. Since the launch of the program, the Office of Financial Empowerment has held regular meetings with non-profit, government and private sector organizations to review and discuss banking products and services, as well as Bank On’s goals and values. These stakeholder meetings are always valuable, and we look forward to re-engaging our partners and expanding our coalition.

When will Bank On San Francisco re-launch with its new outreach materials?

Bank On San Francisco is re-launching in 2018, with new and improved tools for consumers and service providers, an updated website, more partnerships to help connect people with the accounts they need, and financial products that are even safer and more affordable for San Franciscans.

When we re-launch, we’ll issue a press release and post on our social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter).

How can counselors, coaches and advocates get their clients involved in the Bank On SF program?

We will have resources for them to use in guiding clients to accounts that work for them, and we are working on ways to better engage direct service providers, especially financial coaches and counselors. This may take the form of direct trainings, webinars and downloadable guides. In the meantime, service providers and advocates who want to get involved can email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

What are some key features of Bank On San Francisco bank accounts that distinguish them from other bank accounts?

Bank On San Francisco bank accounts are transactional (checking) accounts that meet the needs of unbanked and underbanked consumers. With these accounts:

  • Everyone is welcome. You can open a Bank On account even if you don’t have a U.S. ID or have had problems banking in the past.
  • Safety is a priority. There are no overdraft or non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees. Overdraft and NSF fees are expensive and can trap consumers in a cycle of debt. Bank On accounts are typically “checkless checking” accounts that leave you in control of your money, with no hidden fees.
  • Affordability is a guarantee. Minimum opening deposits are $25 or less (as low as zero) and monthly maintenance fees are less than $10 and can typically be waived entirely (for example by setting up direct deposit).
  • Ease of use is built in. Free bill pay, online and mobile banking, and banking alerts are all available. We also offer free and unrestricted in-network ATMs, and customer support is always free (including live phone representatives!).

What are the new national safe bank account standards?

Building on the criteria established by Bank On San Francisco, and inspired by the 2012 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Model Safe Accounts Template, the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund created new Bank On National Account Standards. The national standards’ core features include low-cost, low-fee basic transaction capabilities with no overdraft fees. More information can be found at the Bank On website.

How can counselors, coaches and advocates learn about one of the other 100 Bank On programs in the country?

They can visit the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund website for more info about Bank On nationally.

Is there technical assistance available to municipalities that do not have a Bank On program, but are interested in starting one?

Yes. The CFE Fund will provide information to municipalities that wish to start a Bank On program. The CFE Fund has created a Bank On playbook to support Bank On replication efforts nationally, and also supports some grants and fellowships for those launching local programs. And we’re always happy to talk!

What are some best practices that you have observed during your re-launch process that counselors, coaches and advocates can replicate in other parts of the country?

It was important to hear from many different voices: consumers, non-profits, banks and credit unions, and local, state and national government agencies. This feedback loop won’t stop with the re-launch. Its success has provided a clear lesson: Stay connected with the communities you serve and the partners who can help you make your program a success! The emerging role of the CFE Fund in supporting the expansion of Bank On nationally is a huge help, and we are also grateful for the support of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in our financial inclusion and innovation work—its biannual survey of unbanked and underbanked households is a fantastic data resource for any city or county.

The role of non-profits and community leaders is vital to making Bank On a success. We believe that local government plays a crucial role in bringing diverse parties to the table and sustaining the program over the long term.

During the re-launch planning process, community partners have provided invaluable feedback on the branding, tagline and images for collateral materials. We are continuing to work on finalizing our posters, brochure and flyers based on that input.

Is there anything else that you want to tell counselors, coaches and advocates?

Stay tuned for the next generation of Bank On! We will need your help to make sure that our clients and residents are aware of and understand their safe and affordable banking options and how taking advantage of the services will get their families on the right track financially.

Editorial note: Consumer Action is a Smart Money Network partner of the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment. Our staff took part in the Bank On San Francisco re-launch process through the Smart Money Network.

To learn more about the Office of Financial Empowerment, visit www.sfofe.org.

Hotline Chronicles: How to handle bad customer service

While leafing though consumer complaints submitted to Consumer Action in the past few months, we noticed quite a few that complained simply of poor customer service. The complaints span the gamut from “rude” representatives to “no way, can’t help you.”

Sometimes you just can’t win, even with persistence, but we have some suggestions for when you find yourself dealing with bad customer service:

  • Consider that the person is having a bad day. While unprofessional, their attitudes might be caused by personal struggles and have nothing to do with you. Calmly state that you would prefer to speak with someone else, or hang up and call back.
  • Always be prepared to state exactly what you want. Make the point concisely. Don’t ramble on.
  • Be aware of what is possible. Are you being unreasonable? You can’t expect a company to return your money for a broken item when the warranty expired long ago.
  • Have receipts and a record of your calls or visits to the business on hand in order to help prove your point. (It’s always that one receipt you decide to chuck that matters!)
  • Don’t raise your voice. We know, this is difficult in many situations, but it instantly alienates the person you are seeking help from.
  • Ask to speak with a manager or a supervisor. Calmly relate your grievance about the bad customer service experience. Ask for the manager’s advice in resolving your complaint.
  • Take your complaint to social media. Does the business have a Facebook or Twitter account where you can state your case? Most businesses don’t want people sharing bad customer service stories about their employees, so you might get their attention this way if other attempts have failed. Stick to the facts and what resolution you are seeking.
  • If a merchant won’t help, and you paid with a credit card, dispute the transaction to your credit card issuer.
  • Write a letter to the company CEO or corporate offices to let them know how you were treated. Download the Consumer Action Handbook—it contains a listing of corporate consumer affairs contacts beginning on page 72.
  • Contact your state’s consumer protection office for more advice on getting your issue resolved. (Find yours here.) If the business is local and you suspect fraudulent or deceptive business practices are in play, you can contact your state’s attorney general.
  • Report the company to a federal regulatory agency like the Federal Trade Commission or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (see page 93 of the Consumer Action Handbook for a list of these agencies).
  • File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

For more tips on effective complaining, read Consumer Action’s How to Complain. For more advice on which complaint-handling agencies might be appropriate for specific kinds of issues, contact our hotline in English or Spanish.

New report: Affordable student loan repayment options are shrinking

While Congress and the White House have been working overtime to dismantle borrowers’ student loan repayment options, Consumer Action has studied the programs that are available—for now—to help borrowers avoid repayment debt traps.

Consumer Action lays out the array of complex repayment possibilities for federal and private student loan borrowers in its latest issue of Consumer Action News. Federal loan borrowers have different programs (PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, etc.) available to them based on income, loan type and loan date. The options for those with private student loan debt are far more limited than for those with federal loan obligations.

Unfortunately, government repayment options for victims of fraud are at risk of termination. Federal student loan forgiveness may be dwindling, as Congress and the U.S. Department of Education work on abolishing rules, such as the Borrower Defense to Repayment rule and the Gainful Employment rule, that provide debt relief to students defrauded by closed for-profit schools.

Attorneys general in California, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois have sued the Education Department for not discharging students’ federal loan debt and for illegally trying to collect on debts incurred at now-defunct schools like Corinthian Colleges.

“These students, who were trying only to better their lives, deserve affordable options to repay student loans,” said Linda Sherry, Consumer Action’s director of national priorities. “We hope struggling borrowers act quickly to get help while they still can.”

In the new publication, Consumer Action breaks down the federal income-based repayment plans and directs consumers to tools such as repayment calculators and a repayment estimator to help them understand the long-term financial impact of student loans.

Click here to view all editions of Consumer Action News.

Hope for pro-consumer legislation now rests at the state level

With the latest Administration bent on removing regulatory protections for consumers, consumer advocates and those in the know didn’t need a crystal ball to forecast a miserable year for consumer legislation at the federal level. But there were still many opportunities for state-level legislative victories. California was one of the states that proved that support for consumer protection is still alive and well in 2017.

Take SB 17, for example. Prescription drug price hikes are one of the reasons health care costs keep rising for consumers year after year. California Senator Ed Hernandez introduced SB 17 to discourage frivolous price hikes by pharmaceutical companies and promote transparency in prices. The bill was a welcome response to events like the infamous EpiPen price gouging and to revelations that a U.S. drug company was selling a hepatitis C treatment for $1,000 a pill in the U.S. (and $4 a pill in other countries).

Specifically, SB 17, which was signed into law in October, will require drug companies to notify health insurers and state government health plans (such as Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, or CalPERS, for state government employees) at least 60 days in advance of scheduled prescription drug price hikes of over 16 percent over a two-year period. The companies will also be required to justify the reasons behind these price increases. SB 17 also will mandate that health insurers annually report the 25 most frequently prescribed drugs, the 25 costliest drugs, the 25 drugs with the highest year-over-year increase in total annual spending and the proportion of premiums spent on prescription drugs. California’s new law goes further than similar laws in three other states (VT, MD and NV) in that it will cover generics as well as brand-name drugs.

“Above all, the victory with SB 17 proves that people can successfully push back against corporate abuses and win, even when they are outspent by corporate cash,” Consumer Action’s Joe Ridout said. “The drug lobby hired 45 firms to try to defeat SB 17 and spent $16.8 million lobbying against drug legislation, but we still beat Big Pharma!”

Another piece of legislation, SB 33 (introduced by Senator Bill Dodd), was a response to big business using a practice known as forced arbitration to deprive the public of their constitutional right to trial. In forced arbitration, a company requires a consumer to submit any dispute that may arise to binding arbitration in a private forum as a condition of buying a product or service. Consumers are required to waive their rights to sue, participate in a class action lawsuit or appeal. Consumers almost always “lose” in such arbitration, and if they do win monetary awards, it’s typically much less than if they had gone to court.

The 2016 Wells Fargo scandal revealed how important it was that consumers have access to their day in court, particularly after suffering fraud and egregious corporate mistreatment. After Wells Fargo was forced to disclose its massive identity theft scheme, which resulted in the illegal opening of 3.5 million unauthorized accounts, it claimed that it could not be subject to a class action lawsuit over the practice because it mandates arbitration to resolve legal disputes. Indeed, the bank’s fine print requires agreeing to forced arbitration as a condition of opening products like checking accounts. But, reasonable minds might ask, how could someone possibly consent to forced arbitration if they never consented to opening the account in the first place?

SB 33 will put an end to practices like Wells Fargo’s. The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, will provide commonsense protections to victims of identity theft who never consented to arbitration when an unauthorized account was opened in their names. (Impressively, SB 33 was signed into law despite appearing on the California Chamber of Commerce’s “job killer” list. Proponents, on the other hand, say it will likely help preserve jobs given that Wells’ criminality led to massive firings of its employees.)

Another important bill, SB 313 (introduced by Senator Bob Hertzberg), also began in response to an existing problem: deceptive “trial” offers for products or services—offers that quickly convert to expensive, often unwanted, paid subscriptions. The bill would initially have required companies using this business model (often called “negative option” marketing) to obtain a consumer’s consent before a trial subscription could transform into a paid subscription or membership. By requiring consumers to proactively opt in for a paid subscription (subsequent to the trial offer), those who genuinely wished to continue using a product or service would have a choice in the matter, while others would hold on to their cash. Unfortunately, industry lobbyists amended the bill to a shell of its former self; the opt-in rule was removed and the final product achieved little more than a requirement for greater disclosure. SB 313 ultimately represented a missed opportunity, but hopefully California will revisit the bill’s intentions by introducing similar legislation in the future.

Last but not least, AB 375 (introduced by Senator Ed Chau) represented another piece of state legislation that started off with high aspirations before being squelched by industry. The bill would have required internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain a consumer’s consent before selling their private browsing histories and online information to other companies. The bill was essentially identical to the privacy rules that had been crafted by the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which were rescinded after the Trump presidential transition (when the moderately pro-privacy FCC gave way to the current anti-consumer agency run by telecom proponent Ajit Pai).

Even though AB 375 was supported by a huge majority of Californians, a number of legislators worked behind the scenes to kill it. And, due to the bill’s public popularity, the only effective way for opponents to defeat it was to never allow it to come to a vote. (This strategy was carried out by Senator Kevin de León, at the behest of ISPs AT&T and Verizon. The Senator sat on the bill for weeks, refusing to assign it to a committee, a necessary step before it could see a vote.)

AB 375 is a prime example of how states are attempting to protect consumers in response to a federal government that is now broadly hostile to consumer rights. Fortunately, AB 375 is expected to return to the California Senate in 2018, and Consumer Action will be there to help fight for passage of it and other pro-consumer legislation.

Coalition Efforts: Protections for students, homebuyers and whistleblowers

Legislation lets lenders saddle consumers with predatory home mortgages. Consumer Action joined a number of housing, economic justice and consumer advocacy groups in opposing two deceptively named pieces of legislation: the Mortgage Fairness Act of 2017 (HR 2570) and the Community Institution Mortgage Relief Act of 2017 (HR 3971). Both bills would make it easier for banks and lenders to issue risky home mortgages to consumers. HR 2570 would allow lenders to evade existing rules surrounding high-cost mortgage loans and steer homeowners into abusive deals on certain mortgages (especially home equity lines of credit and construction loans). HR 3971 would allow larger lenders to make high-priced mortgages without requiring mortgagees to deposit funds in escrow to guarantee payment of taxes and homeowners insurance. (Escrow accounts help homeowners reduce the risk of mortgage default.) Learn more.

Auto manufacturers, rental companies must protect drivers’ personal data. As cars become more advanced technologically, the amount of data they collect and store increases. A group of consumer advocates sent letters to major automobile manufacturers and rental companies expressing concern about consumer privacy in the digital age. Specifically, the groups cautioned them about the amount of data cars can now collect, including location data, call history, search and browsing history, etc. The coalition urged rental companies and manufacturers to inform consumers about what data is collected (and held/accessible to others), who controls the data and how the data can be removed. Learn more.

Groups call on Congress to protect consumers from predatory high-cost loans. A large body of research has demonstrated that payday and car title loans are structured to create a long-term debt trap that drains consumers’ bank accounts and causes significant financial harm. These types of loans often carry interest rates in excess of 300%! Unfortunately, a new resolution in the House (HJ Res. 122) would roll back a rule that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced in October 2017 to rein in the payday and high-cost loan industry. The commonsense rule requires that lenders check a borrower’s ability to repay before lending them money, lessening the likelihood that borrowers will need to borrow even more money or default on everyday expenses (like rent or groceries) in order to pay off the loan. The rule also limits lenders' automatic access to borrowers’ bank accounts. By repealing this rule, HJ Res. 122 would give payday lenders a free pass to continue exploiting financially vulnerable Americans. Learn more.

Consumers must retain notice to opt out of banks’ marketing schemes. Consumer, community, privacy and civil rights groups wrote the U.S. House in opposition to a bill (HR 2396) that would minimize, if not remove, currently required annual disclosures by banks that inform consumers that they have the right to prevent the sharing of their non-public personal information with “nonaffiliated third parties that aren’t selling financial products” (i.e., marketers). The letter cautioned that if HR 2396 were to become law, most consumers would only learn of their right to stop the sharing of their personal information when they initially set up a new account with a financial institution, but likely never again afterward. This would almost certainly lead to consumer harm, including: unwanted marketing, price discrimination and higher risk of identity theft. Learn more.

Protect borrowers from unnecessary credit-related insurance products. Consumer groups sent a letter to the U.S. House in opposition to a bill (HR 3746) that would allow companies offering credit-related insurance products to avoid Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) oversight. If passed, companies could engage in deceptive and fraudulent practices involving the sale of forced mortgage and auto insurance, credit insurance add-ons and private mortgage insurance. Often, consumers do not even realize that the price of a loan has been padded with these types of insurance (which they may not even have agreed to purchasing). Because of this, consumers often end up paying high prices for products with little to no value. Learn more.

An open letter to Donald Trump supporting whistleblowers. A coalition of non-profit public interest groups and corporations signed a letter to President Trump in support of federal government whistleblower protections in order to promote government transparency and accountability. The letter specifically called on the Administration to honor, and strengthen, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which was created in 2012 to restore credible whistleblower rights for government employees. As it stands, however, the Act lacks “teeth.” Following its creation, many desirable whistleblower protections were put on hold pending further study. Among other failings, the law currently lacks the power to grant whistleblowers the right to a jury trial and fails to address retaliation against those who report government misconduct. The groups are asking that these protections be written into the law in order to ensure that those who defend the public have a fair chance to defend themselves. Learn more.

Delaying Borrower Defense rule costs student borrowers over $1 billion. Legal aid, civil rights and consumer protection organizations (among others) submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education in response to its stated intentions to substantially delay approval of the Borrower Defense rule (until 2019). This important rule was created to provide defrauded and cheated student loan borrowers with a process for pursuing financial relief and to give them the right to challenge school fraud in court. The rule was set to go into effect in the summer of 2017. By delaying the rule further, the Education Department exposes wronged student borrowers to over $1 billion in costs. Harmed borrowers who have a right to relief from their schools or to have their student debt wiped clean under the Higher Education Act will instead remain burdened by invalid—often unaffordable—debt and mounting interest. The group emphasizes that the Borrower Defense rule is critically necessary to protect students from widespread and ongoing school fraud and closures. Learn more.

CFPB Watch: Payday rule, loan servicing and language access

Lawmakers introduced a resolution in December to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule to control short-term payday loans, auto title loans and deposit advance products that often trap people in a cycle of debt. These costly loans often carry 300%+ interest rates!

Congress turned to the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the Bureau’s payday rule. Lawmakers successfully used the CRA to repeal a CFPB rule on arbitration just a month earlier. The arbitration rule would have prevented companies from using “class action bans” to stop customers from joining collective lawsuits. Using the CRA, Congress can overturn federal agency rules with support from only a simple majority of lawmakers.

The CFPB payday rule requires lenders to:

  • Determine if a borrower can afford to repay the loan and still pay for basic living expenses;
  • Limit recurring loans to no more than three in a row; and
  • Restrict attempts to automatically debit borrowers’ bank accounts to two times.

Consumer advocates have strongly supported the Bureau’s effort to balance borrowers’ needs for quick access to funds with a commitment to helping cash-strapped consumers avoid a long-term cycle of debt. If it is not repealed, the payday rule will take effect in August of 2019.

Student loan servicing “failures”

“Costly and confusing servicing failures” is what the CFPB called Citibank’s servicing practices on its private student loans. The Bureau said Citibank incorrectly charged students late fees and interest on loan payments not yet due and misled borrowers into thinking they were not eligible for student loan interest tax deductions when they were.

Citibank was also fined for inflating borrowers’ minimum monthly loan payments by combining loan payments that were due with others that were deferred. (When a loan has been deferred, no payment is required.)

Citibank has been ordered by the CFPB to correct its servicing problems and repay $3.75 million to consumers for wrongly charging interest and fees as well as overstating monthly required payments. The bank also was fined $2.75 million, which will go into the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund. This fund is used to repay harmed consumers when funds from the violating company are lacking.

Building better financial access for limited-English-speaking consumers

Language barriers can make opening a bank account, managing basic financial transactions and resolving financial problems very difficult. That’s often the case for consumers with limited English proficiency (LEP). These days, more than one in 12 people are limited in their ability to speak English, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The most common languages beside English spoken in the U.S. today are Spanish (63%), Chinese (7%), Vietnamese (3%), and Korean and Tagalog (2%).

Last year, Consumer Action, as part of the coalition Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), called on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other federal agencies to adopt strong language access protection for homeowners and other financial services consumers.

The CFPB has been studying what services financial institutions are offering LEP consumers, in order to help them better navigate the marketplace. In a recent report, the Bureau noted the efforts of some financial firms to help meet the needs of limited-English consumers.

This includes very large lenders that offer customers access to translation and oral interpretation services by phone, often through a central point of contact. However, financial and other business contracts are available only in English. The CFPB found that, while translated documents may be available (primarily in Spanish), access to certified translators or interpreters is low (especially for languages other than Spanish).

Lenders often rely on bilingual glossaries to keep financial terms consistent. The CFPB offers financial glossaries in Spanish and Chinese. Along with a Spanish website, the CFPB also offers its step-by-step mortgage guide in Spanish, plus other financial education materials in up to nine languages. Its consumer complaint hotline can assist LEP consumers in 180 languages.

To learn more about advocates’ efforts to improve language access, see the “language access” issue of Consumer Action News, which includes resources for limited-English speakers.

Class Action Database: Sears under fire for sale of bad BBQ grills

Class action settlements involving Independent Bank and Ocwen were among 13 new settlements added to the Consumer Action Class Action Database during December.

Of note this month is the class action settlement Oaks vs. Sears Roebuck Co.

The plaintiffs filed a class action against Sears department stores alleging that Sears defectively designed and manufactured certain barbecue grills. Plaintiffs claimed Sears used galvanized steel in the firebox trays, leading to rust and premature failure.

Sears denied the allegations but agreed to a settlement to avoid the burden, expense and risk of continuing the lawsuit.

You are part of the class if you purchased or received one of the following Kenmore grill models that were manufactured between Oct. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2014: 01566, 03495, 16142, 16154, 23673, 23676, 23681, 23682, 23683, 23766, 34172, 34176, 34178, 34308 or 34611.

The settlement provides six types of claims. Each class member can only receive one type of claim and can assess what type based on which class they fall into below:

  • Type one class members (who need a repair) may be eligible to choose to receive a free repair, a $180 Sears gift card or $125 cash.
  • Type two class members (who are no longer in possession of the defective grill but were at one point and have evidence of the rust) may be eligible for a $180 Sears gift card or $125 cash.
  • Type three class members (who own a grill with the model number 23682, which cannot be repaired or replaced) may be eligible for a $180 Sears gift card or $125 cash.
  • Type four class members (who currently possess the defective grill and already paid Sears to repair the grill) may be eligible for reimbursement of the repair costs.
  • Type five class members (who bought a replacement grill before the settlement date) may be eligible for a repair kit or up to $300 cash.
  • Type six class members (who bought the grill between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2013, and bought a replacement but do not currently have the grill) may be eligible for a $45 Sears gift card.

The claims deadline is Jan. 26, 2018.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action is a non-profit 501(c)(3) 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 seven 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 7,000 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.

Tags/Keywords

consumer action, newsletters


 
 

Quick Menu

Support Consumer Action

Support Consumer
Facebook FTwitter T

Consumer Help Desk

Advocacy