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Consumer Empowerment Conference a huge success

Published: Thursday, January 05, 2017

Different CBOs gathered for a multi-day National Consumer Empowerment Conference in Chicago in Nov 2016.

Scores of consumer advocates, housing and credit counselors, and financial education coaches from community-based organizations (CBOs) around the nation gathered in Chicago in November for Consumer Action’s seventh annual invitation-only, multi-day National Consumer Empowerment Conference.

Each year, Consumer Action convenes community group partners along with consumer education experts and advocates, legislative, regulatory and industry representatives and other key stakeholders to address critical issues and share best practices in community-based consumer education.

At this year’s conference, top experts spoke on panels covering topics from payday loan alternatives to low-cost broadband services and protecting consumers’ privacy online. The experts were peppered with audience questions as they shared the latest in news and information to help the CBOs better serve their clients.

In one session on student loan debt and repayment options, for instance, speakers from the National Consumer Law Center, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and TICAS (The Institute for College Access and Success) warned CBOs to remind any students they work with to renew their income-based repayment plans each year in order to remain eligible for reduced loan payments.

In another session, attendees viewed videos based on the documentary “When I’m 65,” produced by the Investor Protection Trust. The video draws attention to the benefits of automatic individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and other practical ways to prepare for the realities of retirement, no matter your age.

“Our staff and presenters do an excellent job of making our annual conference informative and engaging every year,” Consumer Action Executive Director Ken McEldowney said. “They’re always providing fresh resources and information to attendees.”

In a session on financial crime and fraud, presenters gave a live demonstration of the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker tool, launched last year. Participants learned that the top victims of financial scams are not senior citizens (as one may think), but Millennials with a sense of invulnerability.

In the session entitled “Data Access: Protecting Your Privacy Online,” advocates explained how companies track and profile the public to target market each of us, before discussing ways to better control the data that links us to our online browsing habits.

Next, attendees were pleased to learn of new alternatives to payday loans, which they could share with clients. With nearly half of consumers admitting that they would be unable to handle a $400 unexpected expense, this session was particularly timely. FlexWage, a program that advances a portion of an employee’s wages to eliminate the need for a payday loan, was discussed, as were affordable no-fee, small-dollar loans and employer-based installment loans (to cover unplanned medical bills, insurance deductibles and other urgent expenses).

Joining the excellent speakers from local and national non-profit and industry groups, a representative from the CFPB reviewed some of the cases of unfair and deceptive business practices that led the regulatory agency to return nearly $12 billion to 27 million consumers.

Finally, a session on affordable housing options, including low-downpayment programs like Self-Help Credit Union/Bank of America’s 3 percent “Affordable Loan Solution,” tackled the challenge of eliminating one of the main barriers to qualifying for a mortgage: the amount of money needed for the downpayment and closing costs. (Also covered was a savings plan built into a rental agreement designed to offer tenants and landlords more renter stability.)

The conference wrapped up by introducing a fun way to pay down debt through a prize-linked savings incentive plan offering free online and mobile games and video downloads.

Presenter and participant costs to attend Consumer Action’s National Conference were fully funded by: Capital One, TracFone, Bank of America, Citi, Comcast, NBCUniversal, 1-800 CONTACTS, FICO, Microsoft, American Express, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Visa and Walmart.

 
 
 
 

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