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FDIC Consumer News - Summer 1999

Important Update: Changes in FDIC Deposit Insurance Coverage

The FDIC deposit insurance rules have undergone a series of changes starting in the fall of 2008. As a result, certain previously published information related to FDIC insurance coverage may not reflect the current rules. For details about the changes, visit Changes in FDIC Deposit Insurance Coverage. For more information about FDIC insurance, go to www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits/index.html or call toll-free 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342). For the hearing-impaired, the number is 1-800-925-4618.

The Law Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Federal statutes shield you from many banking-related problems, but they also impose obligations on consumers. Here's a guide to your rights, duties and deadlines.

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Credit Billing Disputes

Your Rights: The Fair Credit Billing Act, part of the Truth in Lending Act, protects consumers against inaccurate credit card bills (including unauthorized purchases made by a credit card thief) and allows consumers to withhold payments on defective goods until the matter is settled.

Your Responsibilities: To be fully protected, if you spot an error in your monthly statement, such as a wrong dollar amount on a purchase, you must report the problem to the creditor in writing (a phone call isn't sufficient) and your complaint must be received within 60 days after the creditor sent you the statement being questioned. Include your name and account number, and details on why the charge is incorrect. "Be sure to include a copy of your monthly statement and highlight or underline the charge you believe is incorrect," says Robert Patrick, an FDIC attorney in Washington. "This will help the creditor identify the transaction quickly and otherwise speed up the process." Send your note to the address designated by the creditor for handling errors. Do not send it in the same envelope with your payment. And be aware that you're still expected to pay the rest of your bill that is not in dispute. What about lost or stolen credit cards? Under the law, the most you'd owe is $50 per card. But you owe nothing if you report the lost card before charges are made.

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Debt Collection

Your Rights: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act governs when and how a debt collector can attempt to collect money you supposedly owe on a loan, bill or other personal or household debt. It's intended to ensure that debt collectors treat you fairly and without harassment.

Your Responsibilities: Within five days after a debt collector contacts you, he or she must send you a written notice stating the amount you allegedly owe, the name of the creditor, and what actions you should take if you believe you don't owe the money. After you receive that notice, you have 30 days to dispute any or all of the debt. If you dispute the bill, the debt collector can't contact you again to collect the money until he or she has provided you with proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill.

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Credit Reports

Your Rights: Credit bureaus are firms that gather and distribute credit reports. These reports are used by lenders, insurance companies, employers and others who have a legitimate right to learn about someone's credit history and reliability. The Fair Credit Reporting Act sets procedures for how your credit history is collected by credit bureaus and is shared among lenders. The law also enables you to have errors in your credit file corrected.

Your Responsibilities: It's up to you to find out what's in your credit record and challenge the completeness or accuracy of any information contained in your file. To request a copy of your credit report, call any of the nation's three major credit bureaus at these toll-free numbers: Equifax at (800) 685-1111, Experian at (888) 397-3742, and Trans Union at (800) 888-4213. The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits how much you can be charged for each report ($8 as of mid-1999). There also may be instances where your credit report is free. For example, you may qualify for a free report if you've been denied credit within the last 60 days. If you believe that a credit bureau is distributing inaccurate information even after you brought that matter to its attention, you may file a complaint at any time with the Federal Trade Commission, the federal regulator of credit bureaus (call toll-free 877-382-4357) or bring a civil lawsuit to recover damages within two years of the alleged violation. (Note: Some experts suggest that, to be safe, you get copies from all three companies.)

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Equal Credit Opportunity

Your Rights: The Equal Credit Opportunity Act makes it unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against any loan applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age or certain other characteristics. The ECOA applies to credit cards, mortgages and other types of loans.

Your Responsibilities: If you believe you've been denied credit illegally, you should first try to resolve the issue with the creditor. However, if that fails, you may file a complaint with the creditor's primary federal regulator. You also can bring a civil lawsuit against the creditor, but your case must be filed within two years of the alleged violation.

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Electronic Fund Transfers

Your Rights: The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides a basic framework of the rights, liabilities and responsibilities of financial institutions and consumers when it comes to errors in the handling of deposits or withdrawals electronically instead of on paper. Such transactions include those done at an ATM or home computer, or by pre-arranged direct deposit or automatic payment programs at the bank.

Your Responsibilities: It depends on the situation. Scenario #1: Let's say you want to discontinue a pre-authorized electronic payment from your bank account to a third party, perhaps a mutual fund, insurance company or even a local health club. You must send a written notice that's received by the financial institution at least three days before the first payment you want discontinued. Scenario #2: A thief obtains your ATM card and uses it to withdraw money from your bank account. Under the law, your losses are limited to $50 if you report your ATM card lost or stolen within two business days of discovering the loss (i.e., not within two days of the transaction). But if you wait between two and 60 days of discovering the loss, you can be liable for up to $500 of what a thief withdraws. And in general, if you wait more than 60 days after receiving a bank statement that includes an unauthorized electronic transfer of any sort, the law doesn't require your bank to reimburse you for any losses. You're not responsible, however, for any funds withdrawn after you notify your bank about a lost or stolen ATM card or debit card (a card that allows you to pay for purchases out of your checking account but without writing a check). If your bank concludes there's been no error with an electronic transfer but you disagree, you may file a complaint with the appropriate federal or state government agency.

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Funds Availability

Your Rights: One way depository institutions protect against bad checks is by putting a hold on certain checks when they are deposited. The Expedited Funds Availability Act sets the time periods and other requirements governing when institutions must make deposited funds available to their customers for withdrawal or payment. For example, with certain exceptions, if you deposit a check drawn on another local bank, the funds must be available to you by the second business day after your deposit.

Your Responsibilities: If you believe your financial institution isn't making deposited funds available within the required time period, you can file a complaint with the institution's primary federal regulator. You also can file a lawsuit against the institution, but you must do it within one year of the alleged violation.

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Final Thoughts

Remember that some protections and responsibilities for bank customers are governed by state law, not federal law. For example, if someone steals your checks and forges your signature, your rights and responsibilities would be determined by state law (which generally do not hold you responsible for losses from stolen checks if you've been taking "reasonable care" of your account, such as by monitoring your account statements for unauthorized transactions). FDIC attorney Patrick adds that if you're unable to resolve a dispute with the institution regarding the correct balance in your account, "that's not covered by the federal statute, so you should seek the assistance of your state's consumer protection agency or Attorney General."

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Last Updated 09/10/1999 communications@fdic.gov