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Many credit problems are relatively minor; they can be sorted out by taking proactive steps like regularly checking your credit files at the “Big 3” credit agencies and letting them know if you find errors or omissions that might harm your credit. Sometimes, however, the troubles are more complicated and damaging; you may be a victim of identity theft or fraud, for instance, or may have serious credit account problems that you are unable to fix on your own. That’s when it could be necessary to hire an attorney, but you should be sure to hire one specializing in credit-related issues. If you are going to bother enlisting the help of an attorney and paying their fees, be sure that you use one who really knows their way around the credit industry.
To locate that kind of credit law expert you can contact the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) or visit the organization’s website. The NACA, founded in 1995, is a network of more than 1,500 lawyers who have knowledge and experience defending consumer’s rights -those who have been victimized by fraud, identity theft, collection agency abuse, predatory lending practices, and other related issues. You can visit the NACA website and search for attorneys in your area who focus primarily on consumer credit related services. Have a problem with your student loan or a landlord-tenant relationship? The NACA database includes lawyers with those specialties too.
The NACA Mission
The organization defines its mission as ensuring “justice for consumers, particularly those of low to moderate incomes,” and the NACA website states that it “provides training, technical assistance, and litigation support,” while also spearheading initiatives that “champion consumer interests before the courts, Congress, administrative agencies, and the media.” That sounds like a team every consumer will want to have working on their behalf.
Free Resources for Consumers
You can also learn a great deal just by taking advantage of the information displayed on the NACA website. There are step-by-step guides to reporting credit problems, for instance, and there is a section devoted to foreclosure scams and issues related to the risks to seniors involving reverse mortgages. You can also find out how to more effectively deal with issues related to identity theft or predatory lending practices. One of the sections of the site that is especially helpful provides an overview of both private and government-funded student loans. You’ll find expert tips on how to spot a scam or deceptive loan practice, for example, plus information about the risks of consolidating or refinancing a federal loan into a private loan or in taking out a private student loan that may later be resold to an investor.
NACA at Work in Washington
Hopefully you will never actually require the services of an NACA attorney. Nevertheless it is encouraging to know that the NACA does routinely stand up for all American consumers. Attorneys in the NACA helped to draft legislation to protect us from buying vehicles that have hidden damage, for instance, and members of the NACA frequently testify to Congress regarding such topics as federal consumer regulations, privacy rights, fairness in credit reporting, and the need for enforcement of laws to ensure that debt collectors don’t overstep their boundaries. One area that is currently a major focus at the NACA is related to what is known as “forced arbitration.” In the fine print of almost all loan contracts, credit card agreements, and even the paperwork filled out to become a resident of a nursing home, there is legal language that makes arbitration of disputes mandatory. In other words, if you have issues as a consumer you are forced to waive your legal right to go to court, join a class action lawsuit, or appeal your case. Arbitration is mandatory, the arbitrator’s decision is binding, and the results of the arbitration are not made public, but remain secret. This favors corporations, not consumers, so for years the NACA has been pushing for legislation to outlaw the practice of forced arbitration and make arbitration completely voluntary for consumers.
Assisting Military Service Members
The group also advocates for members of the military. The NACA headed up an initiative to guard service members and their families from sleazy payday loan practices, underhanded used car dealers, and unscrupulous pawn shop and title loan businesses. NACA attorneys also lend their support and expertise to both civilian and military lawyers who are trying to protect military personnel from credit problems, and the organization conducts training sessions that are specifically geared toward informing and educating military JAG officers (the armed services equivalent of civilian lawyers).
*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes.