Saturday, July 13, 2013

Consumer protection tools - thanks CFPB!

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a federal agency that was created as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signed into law on July 21, 2010.  It formally began operation on July 21, 2011 and has been very proactive in it's regulation of the financial services sector (banks, mortgage servicers, debt collectors etc).  Their website provides a wealth of information on many financial topics and is a good starting point for any consumer researching this topic.

Recently, the CFPB has turned significant attention to debt collectors and the many abuses that occur in this multi-billion dollar industry.  On July 10th the agency published on its website "five action letters" for consumers to consider using when replying to a debt collector.  These letters include asking for: 1) more information; 2) dispute and proof; 3) contact restriction; 4) hired a lawyer; and 5) stop contact.  These letters can be accessed at

West Virginia law also provides for strong consumer protection laws.  As always, if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winterize Your Finances

Now that a new year is upon us and the news years resolutions hopefully are still in progress, its a good time to take some financial inventory. To help keep your "financial machine" well oiled consider the following:

1. Start early gathering up all necessary information necessary to do your taxes.

2. Obtain and review a free copy of your credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report every year. The official online site is Dispute errors in writing -sample letters can be found on the FTC website.

3. If you carry balances on your credit cards develop a plan to pay them in full and then pledge to yourself that you will pay card bills in full every month. If necesary seek the help of a local and reputable non-profit credit counseling organization.

4. Take some time to evaluate your estate plan or develop one if you have none. A simple will may be all that you need and most lawyers charge very reasonable fees to prepare one. Some things that may trigger the need to revise your estate plan include the birth of a new child, getting married or divorced, death of a beneficiary and an increase in your assets.

5. Start building or adding to your "rainy day" fund. Many experts recommend an amount equal to a minimum of 6 months living expenses be kept in liquid, safe investments. With today's uncertainty a full year is even better.

6. Re-evaluate and assess your investment and retirement portfolio with your investment advisor.

7. Set aside $30 dollars so that when you are finished with "winterizing" your finances, you and your spouse or significant other can take in a good movie on a drab winter day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Credit Report Errors: Patience and Persistence

Having errors on your credit report can be a frustrating experience. In today's financial world your credit report is the financial equivalent of your resume. It is one key in enjoying a financially stable life.

In my practice I am getting an increasing numbers of calls about credit report errors. These potential clients often have clear errors on their reports and attribute some type of adverse decision to those errors whether it be a denial of a loan from the local bank or an increase in their insurance. These potential clients want and need help sooner than later.

The problem is that under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, no action can be taken against a credit reporting agency until a dispute letter has been written. Even then, if the error persists, bringing a legal action may not be a good option if legitimatly negative information is on the credit report that arguably caused the problem. Thus, to effectively confront an error on your credit report may require a series of correspondence and also phone calls to establish a clear trail of trying to correct the problem. When a consumer is facing denial of a loan or other adverse action, this may seem like a frustrating requirement - after all they did not cause the problem. However, in the end this documentation not only will satisfy a requirement of the FCRA but also could yield significant damages in the appropriate. Ultimately, the best resolution will be a correct credit report. For some sample dispute letters see the FTC website.

Monday, November 29, 2010

2010 NCLC Consumer Rights Conference

I recently came back from the 2010 NCLC Consumer Rights Conference which was held in Boston this year. Boston was a wonderful city, very clean, friendly and accessible, even if expensive. Sherry and Sara really enjoyed the many museums and we all enjoyed the Cambridge area. As usual, the folks at NCLC put on a great conference. I especially enjoyed some of the break out session on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FRCA). Many FRCA violations occur in consumer transactions and often go unnoticed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Documenting Your Case

One of the main reasons lawyers do not take cases involves lack of proper documentation. Many consumers who have been the victim of some type of wrongdoing are able to adequately describe what happened during the initial interview but come up short with the documentation to back up and support their complaint. At a minimum here is what I like to see in the way of documentation:

1. The original purchase agreement or bill of sale.
2. Any warranty documentation.
3. All correspondence.
4. Pictures if applicable.
5. Notes or diary of all phone conversations (who, what, when, where & why).
6. Receipts for all out of pocket expenses.
7. Names and addresses of all potential witnesses.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Health Insurance or Discount Program?

With so much attention focused on the Obama health care plan, it seems like more and more ads have sprung up peddling cheap health insurance programs. As the old saying goes, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably isn't. Many of these so called "health care programs" are nothing more than a proposed discount program that claim certain discounts are available through various participating doctors, pharmacies and hospitals etc. Sadly, some of the more fast talking salespersons for these companies tout them as "health insurance". Only in the fine print do you learn that it is a discount program and not health insurance. If no providers in your area participate in the program then it is of no real value and even if some do the number of procedures or services covered are often very restrictive.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The real storm begins: Citizens United v. FEC

After being sick most of December with my first ever bout with bronchitis and the start of session, it is hard to find time to blog. However, with the recent decision in Citizens vs. Federal Elections Commission I feel compelled to vent my thoughts. This decisison has the potential to go down as one of the worst decision by the Court. Time will tell, but clearly corporations as well as unions, now have the greenlight to raid their treasuries for use in influencing elections. They no longer have to go through the process of setting up separate PAC's and following rules pertaining to those. Interestingly, this decision is seen as primarily mostly benefiting Republicans who are perceived to be aligned more with "business." However, some quick research shows that a variety of groups filed amicus curie (friend of the court) briefs in support of Citizen's United. These include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, NRA and the Cato Institute not to mention various individuals such as Senator Mitch McConnell. Those filing briefs in support of the Federal Elections Commission (and presumably arguing for the constitutionality of the campaign finance laws at issue) include Senator John McCain, League of Women Voters, and American Independent Business Alliance.

Desite this list of "odd bedfellows", the decision is bad for Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Joe the plumber, and for everyone else to boot. This is not a free speech issue. This is a "corporate issue". Corporations are not natural born individuals - they are creatures of statute. To say they have a virtually unfettered right under the First Amendment to get involved in elections is to misunderstand the very nature of these entities. As creatures of statute (and born of ink and paper) they exist because we say they can exist. We endow them with certain rights and special powers (such as liability protection for shareholders and the ability to exist perpetually) to help further our citizens - the natural born ones- in the pursuit of economic activity. Corporations are a tool for furthering the public good. This decision enables the "tail to wag the dog." Corporations will now be able to turn their attention even more to politics and use their massive wealth (which we enable through our corporate and tax laws) to influence elections for the benefit of their own commercial ends. As former Justice Sandra Day O'Conner noted, we are now likely to see an escalating "political arms race". We will all be the worse off.