Friday, January 28, 2011

Financial Crisis Avoidable-Stronger Consumer Protection Needed

The Financial Commission's full report is now available at http://c0182732.cdn1.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com/fcic_final_report_full.pdf. The Commission dismisses the notion that the financial crisis was inevitable. Instead the report states that action and inaction by " “captains of finance and the public stewards of our financial system” led to the collapse.

The report notes that the Federal Reserve failed to protect against predatory mortgage lending and to establish and maintain prudent lending standards. State efforts to regulate national banks were pre-empted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision which prevented adequate protection for borrowers.

The establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) may help avert similar outcomes in the future. However, according to several newspaper articles, conservative Members of Congress may try to 'starve' the CFPB by not providing adequate funding for the agency to function.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Foreclosure Victory in Maryland

Civil Justice and the University of Maryland's Consumer Protection Law Clinic teamed up to get at least 1000 bogus foreclosures dismissed in Maryland. The case Geesing v. Matthews had been initiated by GMAC against the home-owner. Kevin Matthews, the home-owner, filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The affidavit to foreclose was signed by GMAC employee Jeffrey Stephans who admitted under oath that he signed up to 10,000 affidavits per month without personal knowledge of their contents, and did not appear in front of the notaries who had allegedly witnessed his signature. The affidavits are a mandatory prerequisite to initiating a foreclosure action in Maryland. Consequently, approximately 1000 foreclosures are in the process of being dismissed.

Civil Justice is an organizational member of MCRC. Phillip Robinson, Civil Justice's Executive Director sits on MCRC's board of directors. Peter Holland is a member of MCRC and a supporter of last year's annual meeting.

Kevin Matthews, who won his case with CJ and University of Maryland's assistance is featured in MCRC's forthcoming film about consumer issues in Maryland.

Congratulations to all involved in this case!

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Consumer Rights Reception January 24

Join us to celebrate consumer rights, learn what is at stake this session, and meet legislators who are concerned about these issues. This event is free and open to the public.

Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, Job Opportunity Task Force, and Maryland PIRG invite you to a:


Consumer Rights Reception

Monday, January 24, 2011

6:00-8:00 PM

Maryland Inn

16 Church Circle

Duke of Gloucester Room


  • Learn about policies to protect Maryland families and build their wealth
  • Watch a clip from MCRC’s forthcoming film on consumer issues in Maryland
  • Meet legislators working on these issues
  • Meet other concerned constituents
  • Enjoy food and fellowship

Legislators, their staff, partner organizations, and community members are welcome to attend


RSVP to: Marceline White, Executive Director, MCRC at: marcelineawhite@gmail.com


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MCRC releases our legislative agenda-help us pass strong protections for consumers this session

Legislative Agenda 2011

MCRC advances and protects the interests of Maryland consumers through education and advocacy, and works to ensure fairness and safety in the marketplace. MCRC will report on these bills and others that emerge during session to our Members.


Protecting Finances and Employment

Many debt settlement firms use misleading claims and practices to entice financially struggling families into debt settlement contracts. These families are then charged exorbitantly high fees that leave them in even worse financial straits. Debt and loan products should be offered at affordable rates and include strong consumer protections. Consumers should have access to appropriate credit products and access to credit reports and scores should be limited..


MCRC supports legislation to:

•Cap rates for debt settlement firms at 15%

  • Require that debt settlement providers operating in Maryland be licensed by the Commissioner of Financial Regulation and report upon their performance annually.
  • Enable Maryland drivers to purchase Maryland Auto Insurance Fund (MAIF) insurance under an affordable installment plan
  • Ensure credit that the use of credit reports and scores be limited to evaluating credit worthiness.


Saving Homes and Promoting Smart Energy and Utilities

Maryland should work to slow the rate of foreclosures and protect home-owners from fraudulent or incompetent home-improvement contractors. In addition, consumers should be protected from uncontrolled utility costs, confusing or misleading contracts, and unfair terminations.


MCRC supports legislation to:

  • Require that the State publish data on foreclosure rates for each mortgage provider; current servicer; and broker within Maryland in a publicly available report.
  • Strengthen consumer protections for home-owners working with home-improvement contractors and require surety bonds for high-end contractors.
  • Require utilities to offer payment plans to persons who have fallen on hard times.


Providing Adequate Enforcement Remedies

There should be higher fines and penalties for individuals or firms that violate consumers’ rights in order to discourage disreputable and misleading behavior.


MCRC supports legislation to:

  • Promote transparency in mandatory arbitration-allowing consumers to see the record of arbitrator’s decisions prior to choosing an arbitrator or arbitration firm.


For more information, contact: Marceline White, Executive Director at marcelineawhite@gmail. com or 410-624-8980


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Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't Start the New Year with New Fees

Tips from Consumer's Union on how to avoid new banking fees

We’ve noticed a lot of news coverage lately about how banks are ending “Free Checking” to make up for the money they are losing as a result of stronger overdraft protections for consumers. As the banks seek to regain that lost revenue, it’s important to be on the look-out for new fees.

In the meantime, a good place to avoid the new bank fees is to try a credit union. They usually have lower fees and are less likely to introduce new ones

Keep a close eye on your bank statement. New fees will show up first in the enclosures and then on your statement.


If you don’t like a new fee, complain to your bank about it. Then ask your bank what other accounts it offers -one of them may fit with your pattern of transactions better. Some fees are “trial balloons.” The bank may be testing to see if its customers will put up with a particular new fee. Call customer service and ask how to avoid the fee and to tell your bank that you don’t like it.

If you can’t avoid the fee consider moving your money and telling your bank why you are leaving it. If you change your bank account, be careful how you do it.


Also:
Watch for new fees charging you to get paper statements, checks, or even check images.

Don’t sign up for an expensive overdraft loan feature.

Do sign up for text alerts from your bank to help you keep track of your balance.

Do balance your checking account and keep track of how much money you have.

Watch out for the check hold, banks can make you wait to use your deposits and this can cause your checks to bounce.

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