Senate approves measure assuring airline passengers of consumer rights

From today’s ABC News Online:

The Senate passed a measure Wednesday that would give airline passengers new rights and should help make an often frustrating experience easier.

But the bill, which authorizes funding for the Federal Aviation Administration for the next five years, doesn’t tackle those pesky airline baggage fees — a big win for the airlines.

No bumping passengers who have already boarded

This is a direct result of the April 2017 incident when United Airlines passenger David Dao was bloodied and dragged off an aircraft after refusing to give up his seat on an overbooked flight. Shortly after the highly-publicized incident, domestic carriers put an end to the practice of asking already-seated passengers to give up their seats. This bill would make that policy change federal law.

No mid-flight cell phone calls

Just because the flight has Wi-Fi, doesn’t mean passengers are allowed to make that business call. The bill would order the Department of Transportation to prohibit customers from making voice calls between takeoff and landing.

Accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers

Gate agents have long allowed pregnant women to board early along with families with small children, but this bill orders DOT to make that the law. In addition, it requires large and medium-sized airports to provide clean, accessible private rooms for nursing mothers. Changing tables will also have to be in both men’s and women’s bathrooms. The Department of Transportation will provide grants to help airport make the changes.

Orders seat size minimums

The measure, which now goes to the president for his signature, orders the FAA to establish minimum seat standards in pitch (the distance between rows of seats) and width within of year of the president’s signature. Consumer advocates have long argued that shrinking seats create a safety issue, but the FAA presented evidence that evacuating passengers end up waiting in the aisle anyway and current seat sizes have no effect on whether a plane can be emptied in 90 seconds as regulations require.

Read the complete article here.

Freezing Credit Will Now Be Free. Here’s Why You Should Go for It.

From today’s New York Times:

Consumers will soon be able to freeze their credit files without charge. So if you have not yet frozen your files — a recommended step to foil identity theft — now is a good time to take action, consumer advocates say.

Security freezes, often called credit freezes, are “absolutely” the best way to prevent criminals from using your personal information to open new accounts in your name, said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy nonprofit group.

Free freezes, which will be available next Friday, were required as part of broader financial legislation signed in May by President Trump.

Free security freezes were already available in some states and in certain situations, but the federal law requires that they be made available nationally. Two of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, have already abandoned the fees. The third, Experian, said it would begin offering free credit freezes next Friday. To be effective, freezes must be placed at all three bureaus.

Read the complete article here.

Dept. of Education Proposes to Curtail Debt Relief for Defrauded Students

From today’s New York Times:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed on Wednesday to curtail Obama administration loan forgiveness rules for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, requiring that student borrowers show they have fallen into hopeless financial straits or prove that their colleges knowingly deceived them.

The DeVos proposal, set to go in force a year from now, would replace Obama-era policies that sought to ease access to loan forgiveness for students who were left saddled with debt after two for-profit college chains, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, imploded in 2015 and 2016. The schools were found to have misled their students with false advertisements and misleading claims for years.

Afterward, the Obama administration forgave hundreds of millions of dollars in student loans and began rewriting regulations to crack down on predatory institutions and bolster borrowers’ ability to seek debt relief from the federal government. But higher education institutions, including historically black colleges and universities and for-profit educators, maintained the new rules were far too broad and subjected them to frivolous claims that carried significant financial risks.

In June 2017, just one month before the Obama rules were to take effect, Ms. DeVos announced that she would block and rewrite them.

Read the complete article here.

56 years later, JFK’s call for a consumer bill of rights is forgotten under Trump

From the Los Angeles Times:

On this day in 1962, President Kennedy laid out in a speech to Congress the framework for a consumer bill of rights and the crucial role the federal government must play in protecting those rights.

Kennedy’s call to arms is now marked every March 15 as World Consumer Rights Day, which seeks to advance “guidelines for consumer protection”backed by the United Nations.

Yet over half a century later, the current occupant of the Oval Office, President Trump, a wealthy businessman, is aggressively pursuing policies that undermine each of Kennedy’s declared rights.

So it’s worthwhile asking: Is it too late to change course? Have corporate interests prevailed?

Read the complete article here.

Breaking News: Dick’s Sporting Goods To Stop Selling Assault-Style Weapons

From today’s New York Times:

One of the nation’s largest sports retailers, Dick’s Sporting Goods, said Wednesday morning it was immediately ending sales of all assault-style rifles in its stores.

The retailer also said that it would no longer sell high-capacity magazines and that it would not sell any gun to anyone under 21 years of age, regardless of local laws.

The announcement, made two weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members, is one of the strongest stances taken by corporate America in the national gun debate. It also carries symbolic weight, coming from a prominent national gun seller.

Late last week, after coming under attack on social media for their ties to the National Rifle Association, a number of major companies, including Hertz car rental, MetLife insurance and Delta Air Lines, publicly ended those relationships, issuing brief, carefully phrased statements.

But Edward Stack, the 63-year-old chief executive of Dick’s whose father founded the store in 1948, is deliberately steering his company directly into the storm, making clear that the company’s new policy was a direct response to the Florida shooting.

“When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset,” Mr. Stack said in an interview Tuesday evening. “We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘enough is enough.’ It got to us.”

He added, “We’re going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.”

Mr. Stack said he hoped that conversation would include politicians. As part of its stance, Dick’s is calling on elected officials to enact what it called “common sense gun reform’’ by passing laws to raise the minimum age to purchase guns to 21, to ban assault-type weapons and so-called bump stocks, and to conduct broader universal background checks that include mental-health information and previous interactions with law enforcement.

Read the complete article here.

In Montana, Governor Bullock Signs Order to Enforce Net Neutrality

From the New York Times:

Most efforts underway to restore so-called net neutralityface big obstacles and would take many months, if not years, to succeed.

But in Montana, the governor has used the stroke of a pen to bring the rules to broad parts of his state.

Through an executive order, Gov. Steve Bullock declared on Monday that any internet service provider with a state government contract cannot block or charge more for faster delivery of websites, two core aspects of net neutrality, to any customer in the state.

Many major landline and mobile broadband providers, including Charter, CenturyLink, AT&T and Verizon, hold government contracts in the state. The new requirements apply to new and renewed contracts signed after July 1, 2018.

The action, the first of its kind by a governor, could face legal challenges.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission rolled back rules meant to protect a free and open internet. The new rules say states cannot create net neutrality laws. The agency did not respond to a request for comment about the Montana action.

Read the complete article here.

CFPB to reconsider rule on payday loans

From CNN Money Edition:

The watchdog agency said in a statement Tuesday that it intends to “reconsider” a regulation, issued in October, that would have required payday lenders to vet whether borrower can pay back their loans. It also would have restricted some loan practices.

If the rule is thrown out or rewritten, it would mark a major shift for an agency that had zealously pursued new limits on banks and creditors before Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, became the CFPB’s acting director.

Mulvaney took over the top job at the CFPB in November following a leadership scramble. A vocal critic of the CFPB when it was run by President Obama appointee Richard Cordray, Mulvaney since said the agency would cut back on burdensome regulations.

Tuesday’s announcement does not amount to a formal repeal of the payday lending rule. But it does cast doubt on whether it will ultimately be implemented.

Payday loans provide those in need with small amounts of cash — typically between $200 and $1,000. The money needs to be paid back in full when a borrower receives his or her next paycheck, and such loans often come with exorbitantly high interest rates.

Consumer advocates that have supported the CFPB’s restrictions on the loans say such transactions often take advantage of people in desperate financial situations.

“The CFPB thoroughly and thoughtfully considered every aspect of this issue over the course of several years,” Karl Frisch, executive director of progressive group Allied Progress, said in a statement. “There is no reason to delay implementation of this rule — unless you are more concerned with the needs of payday lenders than you are with the interests of the consumers these financial bottom-feeders prey upon.”

The sentiment was echoed in a statement by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who helped create the CFPB.

“Payday lenders spent $63,000 helping Mick Mulvaney get elected to Congress and now their investment is paying off many times over. By scrapping this rule, Mulvaney will allow his campaign donors to continue to generate massive fees peddling some of the most abusive financial products in existence,” Warren said.

Read the complete article here.

Consumers lack financial literacy, contributed to Great Recession

From the LA Times:

Guess how many Americans correctly answered this basic financial question: Is the stock of a single company usually safer than a mutual fund?

A) 100% B) 80% C) 60% D) None of the above.

The right answer is D. Barely 1 in 2 people knew that a single stock is not safer than a mutual fund, which holds many stocks.

The question, included in a survey by a pair of college professors, underscores a fundamental problem facing millions of Americans. At a time when the world of personal finance is increasingly complex — and when people are more responsible than ever for their own financial future — Americans’ understanding of basic concepts is sorely lacking.

Despite many efforts to boost knowledge, studies show that most people don’t understand rudimentary principles of finance and investing. Even well-educated and upper-income Americans often have poor financial literacy, experts say.

“By and large, people are pretty clueless,” said Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council at the University of Pennsylvania and coauthor of the study.

A 182-page analysis by the Securities and Exchange Commission last year found that “investors have a weak grasp of elementary financial concepts and lack critical knowledge of ways to avoid investment fraud.”

The result, experts say, is young people who are mired in student debt and older Americans who face bleak retirement prospects. People who don’t understand basic concepts are ill-equipped for more complex tasks, such as ferreting out hidden fees or conflicts of interest that are embedded in many financial products.

The collective ignorance has played a role in recent financial crises, according to some experts. The subprime mortgage meltdown would have been less severe, they say, if people understood the pitfalls of the loans they were taking out.

Read the complete article here.