With all of the new laws and revised regulations affecting credit cards, you need a guide to help you understand what's changed. And what better resource than the federal government that oversees the new rules.
You can get answers to questions, tips on paying down debt, and an explanation of your legal rights on the websites of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies. Their consumer-oriented sites explain the new laws in plain English (or Spanish) so that you'll be able to manage your credit cards better.
All of these sites have both English and Spanish versions. And they're all free - well, you have paid for them with your tax dollars.
April is Financial Literacy Month. This guide to the best government resources for credit cards will help you kick it off with a head start.
Mymoney.gov is the federal government's site devoted to financial education, and it's a good place to start yours. The site is organized by sections called Popular Topics (spending plan, managing debt and credit, for example), Life Events (going to college, home ownership, etc.), My Resources (organized by age group, by occupation and in other ways) and Tools (calculators, budgeting worksheets, checklists).
Nearly all government resources are available here, but to get the details, you must leave the site and go to the site of the department that created the information. For example, if you click on Home Ownership and then Foreclosure Prevention, it takes you to the FDIC site, which oversees that program. Since you'll be jumping from site to site, think of mymoney.gov as a great jumping-off point for consumer education.
The Federal Reserve
When you hear the term "the Federal Reserve," you probably think of monetary policy and inscrutable economic reports. But the Fed also offers terrific resources for credit card holders in its Consumer's Guide to Credit Cards. Highlights include:
- Special sections on the Credit CARD Act of 2009, credit protection laws, and credit reporting
- Interactive features to help you understand credit card offers and statements
- Calculators for estimating credit card payoffs
- Tips for improving your credit score and managing your credit card
Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission is the government's consumer complaint department. The Credit & Loans section of the FTC site provides articles on credit reporting, credit cards and credit repair, among other financial topics. They also keep tabs on financial scams in the Consumer Alerts area.
Federal Citizen Information Center
The Consumer Action website of the Federal Citizen Information Center in Pueblo, Co., has information similar to what's found at the Federal Trade Commission, covering a variety of topics from credit cards and cars to telemarketing and junk mail. There's also a sample complaint letter, a downloadable Word document that consumers can fill in with their details and mail it to the business.
Federal Reserve Education
The Federal Reserve Education site is aimed at students and teachers with lessons and plans organized by grade level. There are games and simulations for elementary, middle and high school students so you can find out if you're smarter than a fourth grader. And when you've learned all the lessons, there are "Fed Quizzes" to test your knowledge of the fed and financial services.
Philadelphia Federal Reserve
The Philadelphia Fed, one of the 12 district offices of the Federal Reserve, is the home of the Payment Cards Center, a division that analyzes the world of credit cards and trends. They also have lots of articles for the consumer to explain credit cards, your rights, credit reporting and scoring.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The newest government agency, headed by Elizabeth Warren, has a website up and running and ready for business. The section Get Help Now offers links to resources for every part of your financial life at any age. The emphasis is on credit (credit cards, credit counseling, credit reports) but you can find help for homeownership problems also.
About the Author
Ellen Cannon is editorial director of CardRatings.com. She has covered personal finance for nearly 20 years at Bloomberg and at Bankrate.com, where she specialized in credit cards.