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Consumer Issues: Company Practices

One role of a government is to protect citizens from unfair practices by companies.

We'll report on some unfair practices, and what actions the people you elect to represent you are taking to make sure you're not being taken advantage of.

Related Issues

Assault on Regulations
Payday Loans
The True Cost of Flying
Cell Phone Unlocking

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Trump administration removes payday loan protections

2020-Jul-20By: Barry Shatzman

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) formally canceled an Obama administration rule requiring payday lenders to assess whether a borrower would be able to pay back a loan.

The rule had been created to protect consumers from falling into an endless cycle of debt to payday lenders. The restrictions would have saved consumers billions of dollars a year in fees, according to CFPB estimates.

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Who owns your digital books? Not you.

2019-Jul-10By: (External links)

Kindle and Nook readers: You know you don't own those books, right?

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Iraqi sheikh lobbying policy spent a month in Trump hotel

2019-Jun-06By: (External links)

A wealthy Iraqi sheikh who urges a hard-line U.S. approach to Iran spent 26 nights at Trump's D.C. hotel

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Airbnb hosts use hidden cameras to record guests

2019-Mar-26By: (External links)

Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem

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Airline sues customer for gaming its system

2019-Feb-14By: (External links)

An airline is suing a customer who skipped a leg of his flight to save money

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Sears proposes $19M exec bonuses in bankruptcy filing

2018-Nov-16By: (External links)

Bankrupt Sears wants to give executives $19 million in bonuses

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CFBP to stop oversight of predatory lending to military members

2018-Aug-10  (Updated: 2018-Aug-20)By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration has said it will stop looking for violators of a law that protects military members from predatory lending.

Since 2006, the Military Lending Act has protected service members' financial health by limiting interest rates they can be charged and guaranteeing them access to the court system in the event of disputes.

Taxpayers as well as service members pay the price

People typically join the military in their late teens or early 20s - with no credit and little experience in personal finance. As a result, members of the military are four times more likely to use payday loans than non-military people, according to a Defense Department study. Payday lending companies cluster around military bases.

Members of the military also fall victim to predatory actions when buying cars. Dealers often push new car buyers to purchase gap insurance at drastically inflated prices over what their insurance company would charge them. The cost is added to the loan amount.

Service members who find themselves in financial trouble can lose security clearances or even get discharged.

"Predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force," the report stated.

Proactive investigations of predatory lenders will end

While the law would remain in place, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) no longer would monitor lenders to see if they are violating it. Instead, it would rely on members of the military reporting individual violations.

Yet this proactive monitoring has led to significant enforcement and fines, including a $10 million fine against a payday lender in 2014.

A spokesperson for acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney said the Military Lending Act does not specifically provide for these supervisory examinations.

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Supreme Court: Merchants can't suggest cost-saving credit card

2018-Jun-25  (Updated: 2018-Jul-09)By: Barry Shatzman

The Supreme Court has ruled that American Express legally can prevent merchants from suggesting you use a credit card other than theirs.

Whenever you buy something using a credit card, the merchant pays a swipe fee to the credit card company.

American Express charges merchants higher fees than the other credit card companies such as Visa, Mastercard, or Discover. That means a merchant would prefer that you use one of the other cards. But American Express - in its contracts with merchants - forbids them from doing anything that would steer customers away from using their card.

This can cost you money

Swipe fees are passed onto consumers - usually in the form of higher prices for everyone. They cost the average household $400 a year in higher prices.

And anti-steering provisions dissuade the other credit card companies from lowering their fees, since merchants aren't allowed to suggest the card that would cost them the least anyway.

So what happened?

In 2010, the federal government and several states sued credit card companies that used anti-steering clauses - saying the practice violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Mastercard and Visa agreed to stop the practice, but American Express has kept it.

After the court ruling, American Express (as well as other companies) are free to include anti-steering provisions in their contracts with merchants.

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Car loan minority protections repealed

2018-Apr-23  (Updated: 2018-May-21)By: Barry Shatzman

How can car loans discriminate against minorities?

When you buy a car using a loan from the dealer, the dealer may increase your interest rate beyond what the actual lender asks for. The lender returns all or part of the difference to the dealer as extra profit on the car.

If you're aware of that, you can negotiate the markup that leads to your final rate with the dealer. That opens up the process to discrimination on factors such as race.

If the bank set the rates directly with the borrower, interest rate differences based on race would violate the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).

In 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a guidance bulletin stating that these indirect lenders also are subject to the law - even though they may not have any knowledge of a dealer's discriminatory practices.

The guidance is based on the principle of disparate impact - meaning the effect is identical even if there was no explicit intent.

The CFPB has used this guidance to justify enforcement actions against auto dealers they accused of charging minorities higher interest rates, The Hill reported.

What have Congressional Republicans done to reverse protections?

Sen. Patrick Toomey appealed to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the bulletin was a regulation, rather than merely guidance. That would allow them to nullify the rule using the Congressional Review Act. In December, the GAO said the Congressional Review Act could be used to nullify the guidance.

On May 8, Congress passed a bill to repeal the protection. President Trump signed the bill on May 21 - officially repealing the rule.

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CFPB enforcements dwindle under Trump appointee

2018-Apr-11  (Updated: 2018-Apr-21)By: Barry Shatzman

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has fined Wells Fargo Bank $1 billion. It was the CFPB's first enforcement action since Mick Mulvaney became acting director almost six months ago.

Under previous director Richard Cordray, the CFPB had averaged between two and four enforcement actions a month - requiring financial institutions to return almost $12 billion to Americans in cash or other types of relief. One out of every 10 Americans has received some form of compensation through CFPB enforcement, the Associated Press calculated from CFBP records.

Along with reduced enforcement, Mulvaney has taken other steps to weaken consumer protections - as well as to weaken the CFPB itself.

He has...

o Stalled the investigation into a data breach of the credit-reporting company Equifax - in which hackers stole financial data of millions of Americans.

o Expressed his intention to end a rule that would save people from the endless cycle of debt to payday lenders.

o Hired staff members at higher than standard salaries, while requesting that the bureau's budget be eliminated.

What did Wells Fargo do?

The fine against Wells Fargo was the result of the bank improperly adding insurance to auto loans.

Here's what happened. When someone takes out a car loan, the bank requires the purchaser to maintain insurance in case the car is damaged. The purchaser often buys insurance separately and provides proof to the bank. Wells Fargo surreptitiously added insurance to car loans - even for customers who already had insurance. For many of these customers, the illegal insurance may have contributed to their car being repossessed.

Though the fine was $1 billion, Wells Fargo will save almost 4 times that much as a result of the tax reduction President Trump signed in December.

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Payday loan companies sue to prevent regulations

2018-Apr-09  (Updated: 2018-Apr-18)By: Barry Shatzman

This past October, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finalized a rule preventing payday loan companies from lending to borrowers who likely wouldn't be able to repay the debt. Most provisions are expected to take effect by late 2019.

The companies now are suing the bureau to prevent that from ever happening. And their only obstacle might be someone who wants them to win.

The lending restriction was created by the bureau under Richard Cordray - the previous director who had been appointed by President Barack Obama.

But Mick Mulvaney - who became the bureau's acting director in a controversial appointment after Cordray resigned - announced in January that he would reconsider the rule. But he conceded he doesn't know how it could be done. In the meantime, he said he would "entertain waiver requests" from payday loan companies for parts of the rule that have taken effect.

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Rule allowing class action suits against banks nullified.

2017-Nov-01By: Barry Shatzman

In July, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a rule that would have allowed groups of consumers to file class action lawsuits against banks.

President Trump has just signed a bill nullifying that rule.

In nullifying the regulation, Congress made use of the Congressional Review Act, which allows new rules to be blocked by Congress and is immune to a Senate filibuster. Needing only a simple majority, the vote in the Senate was tied 50-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast the 51st vote to pass the bill.

Companies often insulate themselves from being sued by adding a clause to the agreement you sign saying that any disputes will be resolved through arbitration.

One company that uses arbitration clauses is Wells Fargo Bank. In 2016, the bank created unwanted accounts for unwary customers. While Wells Fargo ended up paying more than $100 million in fines imposed by the CFPB, affected customers were unable to sue the bank.

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House passes bill to revoke consumer and financial protections

2017-Jun-08  (Updated: 2017-Jun-20)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would weaken consumer protections and repeal many of the regulations intended to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

The  Financial CHOICE Act (CHOICE stands for Create Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers, and Entrepreneurs) would roll back financial protections created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Its provisions include...

o Weakening the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

o Rolling back provisions that would allow large financial institutions to fail in a way that would not cause a widespread financial crisis.

o Eliminating the Volcker Rule, which prevents large financial institutions from making risky investments that could cause them to fail.

o Eliminating the Fiduciary Rule, that requires financial advisers to act in the best interest of their clients.

The bill also includes versions of the REINS Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act - bills that would make it extraordinarily difficult for federal agencies to enact regulations protecting consumers and the environment. These bills were among the first bills passed by the current House of Representatives, but have been blocked in the Senate by a Democratic filibuster.

This bill still must pass the Senate - where it also is subject to a filibuster - in order for President Trump to be given the opportunity to sign it into law.    

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Rule protecting retirement will take effect in June

2017-May-23By: Barry Shatzman

A rule requiring financial advisors to act in their clients' best interests when planning retirement investments will take effect June 9.

The Obama administration Fiduciary Rule was supposed to take effect in April, but a memorandum by President Trump demanded that it be reviewed first.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta says that the Labor Department will continue to review the rule, but could not identify a legal issue that would cause further delay.

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Bills would eliminate Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

2017-Feb-14  (Updated: 2017-Feb-22)By: Rob Dennis

Rep. John Ratcliffe and Sen. Ted Cruz have introduced legislation to eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The CFPB was created as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Among other things, the agency has...

o Ensured that mortgage lenders approve only those that likely will have the ability to repay them. Lending to obviously non-qualified borrowers was one of the causes of the 2008 financial crisis.

o Sued student loan companies for predatory practices.

o Fined Wells Fargo Bank $100 million after bank employees opened more than 2 million accounts without customers' knowledge or consent.

o Proposed regulations to protect those who use payday loans from falling into a cycle of continually-growing debt.

o Joined the New York attorney general in suing a law firm for scamming National Football League players with brain injuries and first responders in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York.

o Ordered Mastercard and UniRush to pay an estimated $10 million in restitution to tens of thousands of customers who were denied access to their own money and were given inaccurate account information.

To become law, either version would need to pass both houses of Congress and then be signed by the president.

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House resolution would remove protections for prepaid cards

2017-Feb-03By: Rob Dennis

A resolution has been introduced in the Hosue of Representatives that would revoke a regulation that creates consumer protections for prepaid accounts. The resolution would overturn a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule that requires disclosures about prepaid account fees and protects users from errors, loss and theft.

Prepaid accounts allow users to pay with money that has been loaded onto cards in advance. They are used by people who don't have bank accounts, but also are becoming one of the most common ways to pay for things.

The resolution was introduced by Rep. Tom Graves.  

While eliminating a protection to consumers, blocking the regulation would benefit commercial banks, which were Graves' top industry donors in the 2016 campaign cycle.  

The repeal also would need Senate approval, as well as a signature by President Trump. It cannot be filibustered because the rule is being nullified under the Congressional Review Act.

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New protections for users of prepaid cards

2016-Oct-05By: Barry Shatzman

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued a rule that would protect users of prepaid cards.

The rule requires banks (and other issuers of prepaid cards) to more clearly disclose fees associated with the account. It also protects you if your prepaid card is lost or stolen, or if your account is wrongly charged.

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Bill would make it easier to buy event tickets

2016-Sep-12  (Updated: 2016-Sep-22)By: Barry Shatzman

Your favorite performer is coming. You jump online the second tickets become available. And the website tells you the show's already sold out. What happened?

Several things, actually. It's likely that about half of the tickets never were available in the first place - having been reserved for the artist, fan clubs, and promotions. But that still leaves a lot of tickets for the public to have bought up in such a short amount of time.

Those tickets weren't bought by the public. They were purchased by ticket resellers such as StubHub and TicketsNow, who will sell them to you at a much higher price. To buy so many tickets so fast, resellers use computer programs known as bots.

Bots effectively lock out the general public from buying tickets at face value. They buy thousands of tickets both by being lightning-fast and by using tactics to circumvent ticket limits imposed by artists and venues.

The House of Representatives has passed the Better On-line Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, that would make it illegal for resellers to use bots in an unfair way. In order to become law, it still must pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama.

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Bill would prevent companies from squelching bad reviews

2016-Sep-12  (Updated: 2016-Dec-14)By: Barry Shatzman

You buy something that doesn't live up to expectations. Or maybe it doesn't get delivered at all. So you go online and write an honest review.

So the company sends you a bill for hundreds - or thousands - of dollars.

Some companies add a clause to their terms of sale that prohibits you from publishing anything negative about them or their products - even if it's the truth.

A new bill that would end that practice. The Consumer Review Fairness Act would make clauses such as this automatically invalid.

The bill passed both houses of Congress, and President Obama signed it into law Dec 14, 2016.

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Wells Fargo fined for creating secret accounts

2016-Sep-08By: Barry Shatzman

Wells Fargo Bank opened about 2 million bank and credit card accounts for some of its customers in the past five years. One problem. The customers didn't know about them.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has fined the bank $100 million. The bank also will pay $85 million to other government agencies.

The accounts were opened by employees in order to help them reach their sales quotas and receive commissions. Lax oversight by the bank allowed the practice to persist, the CFPB reported.

Although the customers weren't aware of the accounts opened in their name, they still paid for them. Many of the savings accounts were funded by having money secretly transferred from their existing account - resulting in charges for things like insufficient funds and overdrafts in the existing account. For the credit cards opened in their name without their knowledge, customers were charged annual and other fees.

In addition to the fines, the the bank was ordered to refund all fees and charges that customers paid due to the rogue accounts.

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Regulations would curtail payday loan debt cycle

2016-Jun-02  (Updated: 2017-Oct-05)By: Barry Shatzman

Update 2017-Oct-5: The CFPB finalized this rule. It is expected to take effect by late 2019.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has proposed regulations to protect those who use payday loans from falling into a cycle of continually-growing debt.

The regulations would include...

o Requiring lenders to determine that the borrower has the ability to pay back the loan - taking into account their living expenses.

o Restricting the number of times a borrower can roll over an existing loan into a new one.

o Limiting the lenders ability to repeatedly attempt to withdraw money from a borrower's checking account, which would result in multiple bank fees charged to the borrower.

The regulations would cover loans required to be paid back within 45 days. They also would cover longer-term loans if it is paid back directly from the borrower's checking account or is secured by the borrower's car, and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is greater than 36 percent.

The regulations could go into effect by early 2017. There is a public comment period through Oct. 7.

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Fiduciary Rule will protect those investing for retirement

2016-Apr-04By: Barry Shatzman

When you receive retirement investment advice from your financial planner, do you want that advice to represent your best interests?

Though the answer seems obvious, your planner has not been obligated to give that advice - and often does not.

For example, while an advisor is required to recommend investments suitable to your goals, he can suggest an investment that will earn him a higher fee - rather than one that would provide you with the best return.

Conflicted advice such as that has led to a total annual loss of $17 billion to American families according to the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

New regulations from the Department of Labor (DOL) will change that.

The Fiduciary Rule will require financial advisers and brokers to act in the best interests of their clients when offering advice on retirement investments. The regulations are expected to take effect around mid-2017.

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Did you buy StarKist tuna recently? You're entitled to $25.

2015-Aug-27By: Barry Shatzman

Did your 5-ounce can of Starkist Tuna contain a few tenths of an ounce less than feceral law requires? If it did, would you even notice?

It doesn't matter. What matters is that if you bought that can between 2009 and 2014, you can get a $25 check from the company. Or you can choose $50 in vouchers for StarKist products.

It is the result of a class action lawsuit in which a customer alleged that StarKist slightly under filled its 5-ounce tuna cans. The company agreed to settle the case without admitting fault.

To receive either a check or a voucher, you must file a claim by Nov. 20. You won't need a receipt, but you'll need to certify that you actually bought at least one can of StarKist tuna during the affected period.

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Time Warner must pay woman $200,000 for robocalls

2015-Jul-08By: Barry Shatzman

A judge has ordered Time Warner Cable to pay a Texas woman more than $200,000 for calling her more than 150 times with robocalls - half of those after she filed a complaint.

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FCC makes it easier for you to control telemarketers

2015-Jun-18By: Barry Shatzman

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making it easier for you to control automated marketing calls (referred to as robocalls) and text messages.

The new rules extend the protections implemented under the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). They include...

o You can notify a company "in any reasonable way at any time" that you do not want to receive calls or texts from them. They cannot require that you mail your request to them.

o If you get a new phone number that marketers previously had permission to call, you can tell them to stop and they may not call that number again.

o If a company obtained your phone number from the contact list of an acquaintance (i.e. from an app they downloaded), that does not imply your consent for them to call you.

o Your service provider may implement technology that allows you to block robocalls.

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Credit reporting agencies will become more consumer-friendly

2015-Mar-09By: Barry Shatzman

The three primary credit reporting agencies have agreed to new policies that will benefit consumers. Their new National Consumer Assistance Plan will limit the types of information that they keep, and make it easier for you to dispute errors.

Features of the agreement include...

o Medical debts won't be reported until after a 6-month waiting period. This will give people time to resolve insurance and other billing issues.

o Only debts that come from an actual agreement to pay (i.e. loan, credit card) will be recoded on your credit report. Debts such as traffic tickets or government fines will no longer be recorded (though if those debts are taken over by a collection agency they still could become part of your report).

o The credit reporting agencies will take a more active role in resolving disputes - including hiring employees specifically to deal with them.

o If you successfully dispute your credit report, you will be able to obtain a revised report at no charge

In addition, the agencies are working on ways to better deal with situations such as fraud, identity theft, and mixed files - where two consumer files are mistakenly mixed together.

The new procedures also could benefit businesses - who might otherwise turn down a dependable borrower because of an error. They are expected to start taking place in about six months.

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Snuggies marketer pulled the wool over consumers' eyes

2015-Mar-05  (Updated: 2015-Mar-09)By: Barry Shatzman

If you ever bought a Snuggie or Magic Mesh by calling the phone number on the infomercial, you almost definitely received two in the mail. Which sounds okay, because you were told if you bought one for $19.95 you'd get another one free.

One problem... your credit card was charged $35.85. That's because the television marketer added $7.95 for "processing and handling" of each item. And they provided no way to understand that or to back out.

Allstar Marketing Group will pay an $8 million settlement for its deceptive practices, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported.

The FTC alleged the company violated several provisions, including...

o Failing to disclose the total number of products purchased - and their true costs.

o Illegally billing consumers without first getting their consent.

The company has been ordered to change its practices, and the fine may be used to provide refunds to customers.

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FTC will investigate ads disguised as news content

2013-Dec-05By: Barry Shatzman

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating what to do about advertisements on websites that are disguised as news stories. Almost 3 out of every 4 online publishers offer such ads, according to FTC surveys.

Even when labeled as sponsored content or something similar, the ads give the misleading impression of being unbiased news stories.

Note: Lobby99 does not accept paid advertisements on its website. We do not expect this to change.

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Credit Card protection law saving consumers $20 billion a year

2013-Nov-07By: Barry Shatzman

Protections created by a 2009 law to limit stop deceptive and excessive credit card fees are saving Americans more than $20 billion a year, according to a recently-released study.

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act outlawed practices such as charging a fee for every transaction that would cause someone to exceed his or her credit limit. Banks now can only charge the fee once in a billing period - and only if he or she had explicitly agreed to allow such transactions (by default now the credit card company must decline such transactions).

The law also prohibits other practices such as varying payment due dates from month to month, or specifying a time of day as well as a date for when a bill must be paid.

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Changing jobs? 401(k) rollover advice often misleading

2013-Apr-03By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

When you change jobs, what should you do with the money you have contributed to your old employer's 401(k) retirement plan? Your old employer might refer you to a money management company for advice.

That advice often is misleading, according to a Government Accountability Office report released on April 3.

The GAO, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, found that plan providers often encourage workers to roll their plans into IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) even when they'd be better off leaving their money in a 401(k). The companies can collect bigger fees when workers move their money into IRAs, according to the report.

Both IRAs and 401(k) plans were created by the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Part of the problem, the GAO says, is that it's easier for an employee to move their money into an IRA. Reducing the waiting period to roll over money into a new 401(k) plan and streamlining the process could allow participants "to make distribution decisions based on their financial circumstances rather than on convenience," the report states.

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One in five report errors on their credit reports


Five percent of consumers had errors on their credit reports that could force them to pay more for financial products such as auto loans and insurance, according to a study by the Federal Trade Commission released today.


o One in five participants found an error on at least one of their three major credit reports.

o Thirteen percent of participants saw their credit score improve after the errors were corrected.

o In 5.2 percent of cases, the score improved enough to lower the participants' credit risk and could lead to them being offered lower interest rates for loans.

The congressionally mandated study involved 1,001 participants, who used the Fair Credit Reporting Act to fix potential errors.

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Seniors losing homes due to reverse mortgages


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on rules to protect senior citizens from losing their homes due to fraudulent reverse mortgage practices.

Reverse mortgages allow many people over 62 years old to remain in their homes by essentially lending them money that does not need to be repaid until they move out or die. But some lenders have issued the loans knowing the borrowers could not afford the fees or pay their property taxes. And some widows are facing eviction after they say they were pressured to keep their name off the deed without being told that they could be left facing foreclosure after their husbands died.

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