7 Tools to Help You Become a Smarter Consumer
At Cheapism we always try to pass along great money-saving tips, but we also know that some offers aren't worth taking. As the old saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. All this week more than 60 federal, state, and local government agencies and consumer groups have been observing National Consumer Protection Week, with the goal of giving consumers advice on how to make smart buying decisions and warning them of potentially fraudulent practices. The NCPW website links to hundreds of resources provided by the participating organizations. Topics range from online privacy and scams to debt and money management. Here are 7 useful sources of consumer advice you can find there.
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- The FDIC maintains a Money Smart Podcast Network where consumers can download audio information on bank accounts, personal finance, credit, and general financial literacy. From "How to Write a Check" to "Types of Home Loans," they've got all the basics covered. PDF guides are also available.
- Before you make any investments, help make sure you'll be working with a licensed, reputable broker by using BrokerCheck, a free tool available from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. It lets you look up background information on potential brokers, brokerage firms, and investment advisors before doing business with them.
- You've probably seen the ads: "I earn $1,000 a week working from home!" The Federal Trade Commission gives examples of some common ways consumers may be tempted by offers to work from home. The FTC warns that many of these "opportunities" are scams that can leave people paying to work. It helps guide consumers through some questions they should ask and places they can research work-at-home businesses.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been handling complaints about credit card companies since mid-2011 and now offers consumers recourse when they have trouble with other financial services as well. A comprehensive database helps the bureau warn potential customers about disreputable companies.
- The FTC outlines the expensive downsides of the ever-tempting free trial offer and gives consumers advice on how to avoid getting sucked in. This guide walks you through actions to take when cancelling a trial offer and explains what to do if a company refuses to stop charging you.
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- More consumer advice from the FTC: Cut your utility bills during the cold months by conducting an energy assessment, cleaning or replacing air filters, and taking other steps to increase efficiency. The agency's tips can help you preparing your home for efficient heating and cooling throughout the year.
- Companies that promise cheap and easy weight loss or miracle cures have ripped off many an unsuspecting consumer. The FDA points out six "tip-offs to rip-offs" that can help you avoid common scams and products that may hurt your health and your wallet.
The free consumer advice available online extends well beyond the resources listed here. As much as National Consumer Protection Week is about helping people protect their personal information and avoid scams, the initiative is also dedicated to promoting financial literacy. For those who are unclear of the difference between debit, credit, and prepaid cards or wonder about the safety of mobile banking, the NPCW site can provide answers. Information is key when it comes to shopping safely, especially online.