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Financial coaching services to transitioning veterans and economically vulnerable consumers

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Whether you are a veteran transitioning to life in the civilian world or a consumer facing economic challenges – for example, seeking work after becoming unemployed or coping with a housing crisis – having a trusted, well-informed advisor can increase your odds of success. That’s why we’re launching a new initiative – the first consumer education and financial literacy program to be funded by the Civil Penalty Fund –aimed at providing direct financial coaching services to transitioning veterans and economically vulnerable consumers.

Approximately 250,000 servicemembers leave active duty each year. Many could benefit from trusted financial management support to aid their transition into civilian life. With a potential drawdown of active-duty military forces in the next few years, these numbers could increase over time.

There are also millions of consumers who may be economically vulnerable, including 49.1 million people living below the poverty line and more than 68 million who are financially underserved. These consumers are the most likely to lack access to a bank or credit union account and to use alternative financial services that may be less appropriate and more costly.

Our project aims to provide financial coaching services at critical points in consumers’ lives as they move along the path to financial stability. That includes veterans transitioning to civilian life, along with their spouses and surviving spouses, and economically vulnerable consumers seeking assistance from social service providers.

Beginning in 2014, financial coaches will be placed in locations where consumers currently receive other services, such as job training or housing counseling. The program will enable us to deliver direct services to transitioning veterans nationwide at locations that we identify in partnership with other federal agencies. The sites will be selected based on need and veteran population density. For economically vulnerable consumers, 20 local organizations will be selected from across the country to integrate and oversee the delivery of financial coaching services.

Over three years, it’s estimated that tens of thousands of consumers will be served.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our draft solicitation in support of this project. If you are a financial coaching provider or a vendor with experience managing nationwide federal contracts and programs, we welcome your feedback and will host a conference on August 28th for interested vendors and potential subcontractors.

Your first line of consumer defense

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After a lifetime of living and working with servicemembers, I know that the young men and women who volunteer to serve this nation are a resourceful group. Self-reliance, tenacity and a single-minded focus on mission accomplishment are all characteristics that make our servicemembers highly effective in training and in combat. Unfortunately, these same traits can leave our servicemembers vulnerable to deceptive and unfair business practices when they try to tackle consumer financial problems by themselves.

Fortunately, they don’t have to handle those problems alone. Our country’s defenders have a first line of defense of their own when it comes to consumer issues.

Today, the first Military Consumer Protection Day (MCPD), we’re joining 26 other federal, state government, and non-profit organizations – including the Department of Defense, the Federal Trade Commission and Military Saves – to highlight free consumer protection resources for military members. These resources can help servicemembers, military families, and veterans guard themselves against consumer fraud and make better-informed decisions when managing and spending their money.

Even though the purpose of MCPD is to help the military community learn about the various laws, agencies, and resources that protect them from financial harm, servicemembers should realize that they are the key to making sure all those resources work effectively.

So, listen up, servicemembers! Here are four ways you can help strengthen your consumer defenses:

  • Know when to seek advice. Servicemembers all have a military occupational specialty. Combat engineers who build bridges wouldn’t try to do the job of drone pilots or tank mechanics. So, why would you try to do the job of a Personal Financial Manager or JAG attorney? Get free advice from a qualified professional on base before you sign a contract, make a big purchase, agree to payment terms, or enter into any financial deal that you don’t fully understand.
  • Understand your rights. Servicemembers know that good intelligence is essential for mission success. Your personal finances are no different. Laws like the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) or the Military Lending Act (MLA) were created to protect your financial security and are enforced by government agencies with the power to stop those who would violate your rights. But you can’t invoke your rights if you don’t know what they are! Make sure you get up to speed on the SCRA, MLA and other consumer protection laws.
  • Know who’s looking out for you. There are a lot of companies that promise to help you out with a consumer issue or financial problem…for a price. Unfortunately, many of these companies charge for a service that you can get for free or can make your problem worse because they aren’t qualified to help you in the first place. Take the time to learn which federal, state, and non-profit groups handle which consumer issues and what help they can give you. You can find a list of trusted resources and ways to contact them on military.ncpw.gov.
  • Act fast if you get into trouble. Remember that people and businesses who target and financially exploit servicemembers are counting on you suffering in silence. It’s extremely important to seek help quickly if you get into financial trouble. It’s just as important to submit complaints to the authorities responsible for dealing with those who target servicemembers. We take complaints on bank products and services, credit cards, credit reporting, mortgages, student, auto and consumer loans, debt collection and money transfers.

Remember, MCPD was created specifically to empower servicemembers, veterans and their families with information and resources. Visit military.ncpw.gov for more information and a list of events in your area.

How do you build financial capability?

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In case you missed it, we’re gathering information on how to build financial capabilities for people with disabilities, veterans in transition, and people who are economically vulnerable.

If you or your organization would like to contribute, please send us your comments by 4 p.m. ET on Friday April 12, 2013.

Americans with disabilities

CFPB is seeking information from community-service providers, financial institutions, research organizations, and potential vendors concerning strategies to build the financial capability of people with disabilities.

Veterans in transition and economically vulnerable consumers

CFPB is seeking information from organizations and vendors that have an interest and/or experience in providing financial coaching services, particularly to veterans and economically vulnerable consumers.

Check the screen for ATM fees

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Sometimes, you really just need some cash. Maybe you want to catch a bus, grab a cab, or get a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant that doesn’t accept debit or credit cards. In situations like these, you may have to run to the nearest ATM.

Now, I imagine you’re probably aware that you’ll be charged a fee if you use an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank or credit union. And even if you didn’t know that, you would receive an electronic notice on the ATM screen or a printout before you complete the transaction and have to pay that fee.

If you were paying extra close attention, you may have noticed a sticker pasted on or near the ATM that tells you about fees but doesn’t tell you how much the fee will be. If you’ve ever wondered why that sticker was there, the answer is that, until now, the law required it.

Congress recently amended the law about ATM fee disclosures to eliminate the sticker requirement. Now the CFPB is following the law by changing these rules. While this change means that consumers may no longer see a sticker on the ATM telling them that the ATM owner may charge a fee, the information about these charges, including the amount of the charge, will still appear on the ATM screen or a printout. The consumer will be able to cancel the ATM transaction without paying a dime.

At the CFPB, we work to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make informed decisions about their financial products and services. If you have had a confusing experience with ATM fees, you may contact the CFPB to tell us your story or submit a complaint.

Tax time is the perfect time to save

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This post is part of a series for National Consumer Protection Week

Filing taxes doesn’t have to be the worst. For some, tax time can offer an opportunity to set some money aside for goals or a rainy day.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families. EITC can even reduce taxes and result in a refund. Last year, over 27 million consumers received nearly $62 billion in EITC.

Many people who are eligible for free tax services, for example, at IRS-approved Volunteer Income Tax Assistant (VITA) sites, pay to have their taxes prepared. Money saved by using free tax prep, added to part of a refund, could go right into a savings account or be used to pay down debt.

In addition to taking advantage of free tax services, there are many other ways to save. You can save automatically by having a portion of your refund or your paycheck deposited directly to a savings account.

Saving is hard, but a cushion can give you the ability to say “no” to expensive financial products .

For some, information and knowledge in a transparent market is enough to ensure they’re able to choose the best option. But for others, it comes down to having enough money to avoid more expensive products and services . Income alone is often not enough to ensure access to an affordable and beneficial choice, especially for people who are low-income or economically vulnerable.

Everyone’s financial situation is different. Whether you are saving for your next car repair, a month’s rent, or for a personal goal, you are taking the first step to expand your choices by setting savings aside. The power to say “no, thanks” to high-cost products can be one of the most powerful consumer protections of all.

What can students do to protect themselves?

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This post is part of a series for National Consumer Protection Week

Americans owe more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt. That’s more than we owe on credit cards, more than we owe on car loans – and it’s still growing.

So, if you’re going to invest in a college degree, we want you to be able to choose the best deal for your situation. Students are overwhelmed with options and aren’t sure how to compare them. In the absence of apples-to-apples comparisons, they’re left to their own devices when making a choice that will have significant consequences for their financial future.

Here is the suite of tools we’ve developed to help you along the way:

Paying for College
From start to finish, we can help you make informed financial decisions about paying for college.

Repay student debt
While we can’t give you advice for your exact situation, we can point you in the right direction.

Choose a loan
Three steps that can help you get the right loan for you.

Submit a complaint about a student loan or a bank account or service
We’ll forward your issue to the company, give you a tracking number, and keep you updated on the status of your complaint. Even if you have federal loans, we can help make sure you get to the right place to submit a complaint.

Managing your college money
Choosing your first bank account is an important decision. Unlike that first school ID photo, your first banking relationship could last long after you graduate. Making a smart decision now will mean fewer surprise fees that can add up later.

Compare financial aid and college cost
We’re building a tool that will let you compare financial aid offers so you can see how all those numbers impact your payments down the road.