What Are Your Rights as a Consumer?
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Consumer Protection Laws – Know Your Rights When Dealing With Financial Companies

As a consumer in the United States, you may sometimes feel like you’re at the mercy of large corporations with deep pockets and vast legal expertise at their disposal. But, thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a variety of legislation, many protections are in place to protect you and your rights as a consumer.

The following is a general overview of some of the most important protective laws in the country.

The Fair Housing Act

Also known as the Civil Rights Act, this protection was voted into law in 1968, and prevents discrimination in housing in the following forms:

  • Refusal to rent or sell housing based on a person’s race, religion, national origin, color, family status or disability
  • Alteration in the terms of rental or sale of a property (because of any of the above criteria)
  • Advertisement of rental or sale properties in such a way that any of the above groups are favored/discriminated against
  • Jeopardizing a person’s ability to exercise housing rights for discriminatory reasons or retaliating against anyone who takes legal action to correct such discrimination

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for investigating violations of the Fair Housing Act filed by consumers. Practices like redlining and reverse redlining, which some claim occurred during the recent housing bubble, may be considered violations of this act.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, this law aims to eliminate abusive debt collection, champion fair debt collection and give consumers a way to verify and dispute debt information.

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The law outlines the following as illegal “abusive and deceptive” collection practices:

  • Phone contact outside the 8 am – 9 pm window
  • Continued contact after written communication requesting contact be ceased
  • Contact at work after being informed this is unacceptable
  • Phone calls with the intent to annoy, harass or abuse, like repeated phone calls
  • Direct consumer contact when consumer has known legal representation
  • Consumer contact without verification after a consumer has requested, in writing, confirmation of a debt and before the collector has provided it
  • Deceit or misrepresentation in order to collect a debt, such as suggesting or claiming that the debt collector is a lawyer or police officer
  • Threat of legal action or arrest when neither is actually on the table
  • Publication of consumer’s name on a “bad debt” list
  • Seeking more than is permitted for a given debt
  • Incorrect report of credit information to a credit reporting bureau
  • Communication with third parties about the consumer’s debt
  • Contact by embarrassing media about a debt

Your lawyer can help you determine whether your creditors have engaged in any of these behaviors and whether or not legal action is appropriate.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

This law allows you to have free access to your credit report (a history of your credit action), challenge any inaccuracies you see and generally stay informed about where you stand in the eyes of creditors and lenders.

The three major Credit Reporting Agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) receive information from thousands of creditors (credit card companies, banks, home lenders, etc.) about your payment history, current balances, late charges and more. The CRAs are required by law to report all information accurately and correct any mistakes you find, which you can do by:

  • Visiting www.annualcreditreport.com for one free copy of your credit report from each of the Agencies every year
  • Verifying the information on your report with your personal records
  • Notifying the agency in writing about any inconsistencies you notice

Credit reports are a wonderful tool available to you – but they only work as well as you make them. In other words, nobody will notice mistakes but you, which means you should check your report every year.

Errors on your report may lead to a lowered credit rating, which may hurt your ability to get loans, sign leases, open credit card accounts and more.

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Truth in Lending Act

This law is meant to protect you, the consumer, in credit transactions. It outlines requirements for lending disclosure. That is, it requires that those who are extending credit fully reveal the terms of the loan (interest rates, payment period, late fees, etc.).

Unfortunately, many credit card agreements come with such extensive disclosure that many consumers do not read all the terms and conditions and end up deeply in debt.

Make Sure Your Rights Are Protected

This page is meant to serve as an overview of some of the basic rights you have as a consumer. If you believe your rights have been violated, you may want to discuss your situation with a bankruptcy lawyer to determine whether or not legal action is appropriate.

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