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FDIC Consumer News - Summer 1999
|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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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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