Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Consumer Caucus retreat July 14 - please RSVP


Together and individually, we worked hard during the last General Assembly session to protect Maryland consumers from predatory lending, debt settlement schemes, foreclosures, higher auto insurance rates, and increased utilities. Many of us worked to strengthen enforcement measures and promote greater transparency for consumers in mandatory arbitration clauses, enforcement of consumer protection violations, and in product safety. 

Overall, we achieved some important victories, but also faced serious setbacks in our efforts. This election year, we can better achieve our collective goals by working strategically during the summer and fall to lay the groundwork for the 2011 Session. MCRC and Maryland PIRG would like to invite you to strategize about how to build upon the 2010 session and take advantage of the electoral cycle. 

Please join us for the 2010 Maryland Consumer Caucus retreat on Wednesday, July 14 at the University of Baltimore Business Center (room TBD) from 9:00am-3:00pm. Light lunch and refreshments will be provided. 

As we did last year, we would like to suggest the Consumer Caucus select three priority issues for the session. We do not ask that every group work on all three issues but that each group agrees that at least one of the issues selected will be one of their organization’s priorities for the 2011 session and that the organization will devote staff resources to working on the issue. 

To facilitate this process, we are asking Consumer Caucus members to write up their proposal for the priority issue and send it to us prior to the meeting. Please include the following: 

· What the issue is and why it is important to Maryland consumers

· What the policy solution is for this issue

· Any thoughts you have regarding strategy for passing it in Annapolis

· What opponents might say about the issue and how to deflect their messages 

· What we need in order to win on this issue (research, grassroots, grasstops, etc., and who could provide those). 

We will also be sending out a survey as we did last year to collect and synthesize our assessment of last session, issues for next session, suggestions for the caucus and more. 

Please let us know if you can make the July 14th retreat by filling out this survey: to help us to gather information on your priorities and assist us in determining the final agenda for the meeting.

We are excited and look forward to working with you! 


Johanna Neumann
State Director
Maryland PIRG

Marceline White
Executive Director
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition


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Why should car dealers be exempt?

Here's a great piece from Politico that shows the deceptive practices car dealers often use to separate consumers from their money, and argues these dealers should not be exempted from common-sense rules. .

.. Dealers argue that they should not be regulated by the new agency because they are not to blame for the economic crisis. But that argument misses the point.

The bill is intended to prevent the next economic crisis — not the last one. And if car dealers are not included, they may indeed add to future instability.

Like the subprime mortgage loans that triggered the last crisis, car loans are often securitized, subject to many of the same laws that failed to prevent the subprime fiasco, and pervasive throughout the country.

While mortgage brokers received kickbacks from lenders for steering borrowers into higher interest loans, so auto dealers have been rewarded for deceptive, anti-consumer behavior. ...


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Monday, June 21, 2010

Congress turns attention to debt settlement firms

... State attorneys general from New York to California and consumer watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau say the industry’s proceeds come at the direct expense of financially troubled Americans who are being fleeced of their last dollars with dubious promises.

Consumers rarely emerge from debt settlement programs with their credit card balances eliminated, these critics say, and many wind up worse off, with severely damaged credit, ceaseless threats from collection agents and lawsuits from creditors.

.. The Federal Trade Commission has proposed banning upfront fees, bringing vociferous lobbying from industry groups. The commission is expected to issue new rules this summer. Senator McCaskill has joined with fellow Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York to sponsor a bill that would cap fees charged by debt settlement companies at 5 percent of the savings recouped by their customers.

MCRC's report on debt settlement explains how the practice almost always leaves consumers in worse shape than when they started. To read the full report or the executive summary, click here.


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Friday, June 18, 2010

Identity-theft rules delayed

Gary Haber reports: Under the new rules, businesses would need to be able to flag situations where a customer tries to use another person’s identity, such as where a person’s appearance does not match the information on his driver’s license. Federal banking regulators have applied similar rules to banks, credit unions and savings and loans since November 2008.

... “These rules are a good first step,” said Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. “The fact that they are being delayed is unfortunate. We’re in a status quo position, which is not good enough.”


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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Homes are lost to foreclosure, but former owners still owe

After the bank foreclosed on Fernando Palacios's Gainesville home in March, he thought he was done with what he described as the most stressful financial situation of his life.

The bank sold the home for far less than Palacios owed on it, as often happens with foreclosures. What Palacios did not see coming was the letter from his lender demanding that he pay the shortfall: $148,064.02.


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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Consumer and Privacy Groups Support Senate and House Bills to Curb Debt Settlement Abuses

Please call your senators and member of Congress and urge them to co-sponsor or support this important legislation!

With unemployment high and many families struggling with their finances, debt settlement firms are aggressively advertising on the radio, television, and the Internet that they can help by “eliminating your debts.” However, consumer groups [including MCRC] warn that using debt settlement services often leaves people deeper in debt rather than debt-free.

They are calling on Congress to act quickly to enact S. 3264, the Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act of 2010 sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and H.R. 5387, the companion bill sponsored by Representatives Louis Gutierrez (D-IL), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Gwen Moore (D-WI). This legislation will protect consumers who are deeply in debt and desperately looking for solutions from deceptive practices and misconduct in the debt-settlement industry. Read more here.


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Corporations funding $500,000 tab for National Speakers Conference in Maryland

The tab for the 2010 National Speakers Conference -- hosted this year by Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) -- is expected to top $500,000, organizers say. And the bills for it will be paid by a few dozen local and national corporations, almost all of which have business before legislatures in Maryland and other states.

... Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, said it is unfortunate that nonprofit groups such as hers do not have the same opportunity.

"There's a real need to hear what's happening on the ground, from poverty advocates and consumer advocates," she said. "Those are important voices for speakers to hear. It seems like a real missed opportunity." Full story here.


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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Maryland among top 10 worst states for foreclosure

Baltimore Business Journal: Residential foreclosures in Maryland jumped nearly 7.5 percent from April to May, putting the state among the 10 worst states in the nation for foreclosures.


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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Report says payday-loan alternatives can also hurt consumers

National Consumer Law Center: Some loans offered by banks and credit unions as “alternatives” to high-cost, short-term payday loans may instead plunge consumers into a costly and nearly inescapable debt cycle – just like payday loans!

That’s the warning contained in “Stopping the Payday Loan Trap: Alternatives That Work, Ones That Don’t,” a report issued today by the National Consumer Law Center.

“Too many providers of so-called payday loan alternatives hit consumers with some of the same onerous provisions that predatory lenders use to saddle unwary and vulnerable borrowers with loans they can’t afford to repay,” said Lauren Saunders, managing attorney of NCLC’s Washington office and principal author of the report.

To download the report, click here.


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Monday, June 7, 2010

Columnist wonders why car dealers think they should be exempt from new regulations, and why any lawmakers agree

"The No. 1 consumer complaint received by the Better Business Bureau and state and local consumer agencies is on abusive financial practices by auto dealers, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

That's why it is unfathomable that Congress is poised to exempt car dealers from oversight by the new government agency designed to protect consumers from financial predation."


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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Have a great volunteer? Let us know!

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition is seeking nominees for recognition of their important volunteer work. The winner will be honored at our special 10th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meeting on the evening of October 14, 2010 in Clarksville, MD.

Former Senator Paul Sarbanes will be there to receive our Lifetime Achievement Award, and Thomas Perez, Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, will give the keynote address.

Volunteer areas of service could include helping others to understand their finances; helping people navigate or avoid the foreclosure process; advocacy in the area of consumer-protection legislation or policy; assisting low-income consumers prepare their tax returns, and the like. Past winners include a pro bono attorney, a fraud-hotline volunteer and an education coalition volunteer. The volunteer need not have “consumer advocate” in his/her job title or description. 

For details and the (very brief!) nomination form, click here.


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No auto-dealer exemption from new consumer protections!

The House and Senate are beginning to reconcile the differences between their Consumer Financial Protection Agency bills this week. Please contact or visit their offices to let them you know you support a strong, independent agency.

In a disappointing development, both of Maryland's senators voted last week to support a provision that would exempt auto dealers from the new oversight rules. We need to let Senator Mikulski, Senator Cardin and our U.S. Representatives know that Marylanders want the new agency to have authority over all lenders, including car dealers. There is still time to fix this, so please let your congressperson and senators know that that issue is important to you.

Click here to find your Representative. For contact information for Maryland's Senators, click here.

Thank you!


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