Consumer Tips

PROTECTING YOURSELF IN A COMPLEX MARKETPLACE — Our researchers and attorneys provide key tips for how you can shop for the best bank, get the best car loan, protect against identity theft, and more.

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Being a consumer in today’s marketplace can be tough. Financial decisions in particular often require navigating a torrent of misleading advertisements and pages of jargon-filled small print. Even the simplest choices — everyday financial decisions like opening a credit card, creating a bank account, applying for a loan, or sorting through cell phone contracts — can take time, energy and knowledge that too many of us don’t have.
   
Many financial institutions don’t set out to make it easier for their customers:

  • 1 out of every 20 Americans — millions of consumers — have errors on their credit reports significant enough to raise their rate on loans.
  • Financing cars through dealerships costs consumers more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest.
  • From 2005 to 2010, identity theft rose by 33%. In 2012, an estimated 12.6 million Americans became victims. That is 1 victim every 3 seconds. 
  • Banks made around $11 billion in overdraft fees in 2015, fees they pitched as “overdraft protection” but actually cost consumers more.

Despite these practices, there are ways to protect yourself. We want to help. This is why we’ve created the following tip sheets based on common complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Read on. Protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

File a complaint if you have a problem

For all sorts of everyday consumer problems, there are government resources that can help. Federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Consumer Product Safety Commission exist to protect us from unfair or dangerous products. Submitting complaints to government agencies can help resolve your problem AND it helps these agencies hold companies accountable for unfair practices. For more information, consult our tip sheet on the subject, which includes information on how to contact the CFPB with financial complaints, the CPSC with toy and other product safety complaints, the NHTSA with car safety complaints, and DOT with air travel complaints: How to File a Consumer Complaint and Use Government Databases.

Keeping Track of Your Money:

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:

Common Consumer Problems:

Please note that these tips are not intended as, nor should they be construed as, legal advice. If you need legal advice dealing with a consumer problem, consult an attorney.

Issue updates

See which airlines get the most and least complaints

Spirit Airlines generated the most complaints per 100,000 passengers and Southwest the least, according to a study released Thursday. The study, by the CALPIRG Education Fund, analyzed complaint data for 13 large domestic airlines lodged with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division from 2009 through 2013. It found that most complaints are about delayed or canceled flights.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Report: Spirit is Most Complained-About Airline

SACRAMENTO — Spirit Airlines passengers are most likely to complain about their experience, according to a report released today by the CALPIRG Education Fund. Among major airlines, Spirit generates the most complaints for its size and generates an increasing number of complaints each year. Other most-complained about firms include Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems as if every consumer has an airline problem story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag. What many consumers don’t know is that they have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. This report tracks five years of consumer complaints and highlights which airlines received the most complaints and what kinds of complaints were most common.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Report Identifies Banks Consumers Complain About Most

Thousands of Americans are using the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public Consumer Complaints Database to settle disputes with their banks.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG | Consumer Protection

GOOD NEWS FOR CONSUMERS & FIRMS THAT WANT TO PLAY FAIR

Statement of Jon Fox, CALPIRG Consumer Advocate, on the Senate Confirmation of Richard Cordray to Full Term as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG education Fund | Consumer Protection

New Attorney General Report Finds that 2.5 Million Californians Put at Risk by Electronic Data Breaches

Attorney General  releases new report detailing 131 electronic data breaches that put 2.5 million Californians at risk by exposing their personal information.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

CALPIRG Releases New Report on Mobile Payment Systems

CALPIRG Education Fund) releases a new report titled, “The Future is Calling: A Consumer Guide to Mobile Payment Systems.” The report explains how this new technology works and provides consumers with the information they need to best utilize mobile payment systems in a safe and secure way.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

10 Reasons We Need The CFPB Now

This report outlines predatory financial practices that hurt consumers and helped collapse the economy, costing us eight million jobs, millions of foreclosed homes and trillions of dollars in lost home and retirement values. It explains these and other emerging problems as “10 Reasons We Need The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now.”

> Keep Reading
Report | Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) & University of Massachusetts, Amherst | Consumer Protection

How Wall Street Speculation is Driving Up Gasoline Prices Today

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since bank deregulation began in the early 1980s, the PIRGs and other consumer groups have conducted numerous studies documenting skyrocketing consumer banking fees. Our studies have helped to focus national attention on the problem of skyrocketing bank fees. Our results are substantiated by the results of the Federal Reserve Board's annual fee reports to Congress.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Tax

CFPB launches new consumer Q&A resource page | Jon Fox

The CFPB launches a new interactive online tool that helps consumers find answers to their basic financial questions.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Tax

Paying Taxes, Safe and Sound | Jon Fox

With less than a month left to “Tax Day”, that special time of year when taxes are due, CALPIRG releases a new Questions & Answer guide to paying taxes.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

50 Years Ago This Week, JFK Ushered in Modern Consumer Protection Era | Ed Mierzwinski

I've got a new column at Huffington Post, "50 Years Ago This Week, JFK Ushered in Modern Consumer Protection Era." I discuss President Kennedy's visionary "Special Message to the Congress on Protecting the Consumer Interest" announced on March 15, 1962. He declared that consumers have rights and government should protect them. Read the full column after the jump.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

FTC Releases Top Complaints for 2011, Identity Theft Tops the List | Jon Fox

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its list of top consumer complaints received by the agency in 2011. Unsurprisingly, identity theft complaints topped the list.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

WH urges privacy rights, industry promises "Do Not Track Sometimes" while states investigate Google | Ed Mierzwinski

As web giants amass more and more information about consumers for behavioral targeting and even "social discrimination" -- which can include differential pricing for the same product or the use of web tracking data and falsely-flagged websites to promote certain brandname drug use -- the White House has called for a privacy bill of rights. Companies and powerful industry lobbies seeking to keep those rights weak simultaneously rolled out their own "Do Not Track Us Sometimes" button.

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports CALPIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support CALPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.