Any sort of federal agency to protect consumers from abuse from the financial industry is months, or possibly years, away, notes Linda Stern of Reuters. That’s why you shouldn’t depend on such an agency to protect you in the meantime. In fact, you can take her advice and use it no matter what happens at the federal level.
Here are her tips on how to “be your own regulator”:
- Take advantage of existing government advice from sites like www.ftc.gov/credit, the FDIC’s consumer alerts page, and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors calculators and tools.
- “Read everything, the junkier it looks, the better.” We’ve all trained ourselves to skim or throw out anything that looks like junk mail. During the next few years especially, as less forthright banks and lenders try to sneak fee increases or changes to their terms past customers, you should constantly watch for anything that might be a notice in disguise.
- “Keep cushions everywhere.” At first we thought she meant decorate your home like this guy we knew when we first moved up here to NYC—he had so many pillows around his apartment it looked like the inside of Jeannie’s bottle on “I Dream of Jeannie”. It turns out, that’s not what she means at all:
Even with money tight, try to keep a little extra in all of your accounts; it keeps the bankers from pouncing. Keep an extra $100 in your checking account and forget about it; you’re less likely to bang into punitive overdraft fees when you use your debit card. Use less than the full borrowing power of your credit card; you’ll avoid over-limit fees. Pay your bills a day or two early, to avoid late fee traps. Consider all of this a form of self-insurance.
- Apply for new credit cards using snail mail and letters, not online or over the phone. Stipulate exactly the terms under which you want the card, so that you cover any details that they might be leaving out that will bite you in the ass later.
- Complain. (Hey, have you heard of something called an EECB?)
- “Learn to like vanilla.” Her point here is that old-fashioned products have “fewer nooks and crannies… where fees and other traps can hide.”