The Checkout

A Free Consumer Guide That's Good and True!

Need to know your liability if your debit card is stolen? (Answer: $50--but only if you report the loss promptly. It can be much greater if you don't.)

Or how much an airline will pay you if your luggage is lost? (The maximum is $1,250 per passenger).

These answers plus tons more very useful consumer information is contained in the government's 2006 Consumer Action Handbook. Only 158 pages, it's full of tips and lists of who to contact at companies, trade associations, federal agencies, state and local agencies and consumer groups.

This handbook is issued annually and this year's is updated to include information about digital television and the new Medicare prescription drug plans. It also has a list of 13 quick tips to make you a wiser consumer, including "Say 'No' to credit insurance offers" and "Extended warranties or service contracts are rarely worth what you pay for."

Even if you had to pay for this, which you don't, it would be a great value. You can download it online or order a paperback copy by filling out a form online, calling 1-888-8PUEBLO (from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time) or sending your name and address to Handbook, Pueblo, Colo. 81009.

And speaking of lost luggage, make sure you read the story by my colleague Cindy Loose, who tells you what your rights are if your flight's been canceled or delayed.

By  |  March 16, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Consumer Tips
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Browsing through this publication, within minutes I have already discovered a statement that is not true everywhere in the USA. Under "Quick Consumer Tips" (page vi)Item #8: "Real estate agents represent the seller—not the buyer." This is an oversimplified statement. I am a licensed real estate agent in Florida. FL law provides us with the option to act as a "Transaction Broker" in situations where we (or someone in our office) have listed a home and brings the buyer--we provide a limited form of representation to buyers and sellers and must disclose our role and duties in writing to all parties. So, who knows what other inaccuracies occur in this document? The publication does seem "good", but not perhaps always "true".

Posted by: Ricki | March 16, 2006 9:12 AM

I think you misread this publication; the maximum liability for a stolen debit card is NOT $50. Depending on the bank, it can be as much as $500. From the Consumer Guide, pg. 14: "While federal law limits your liability for a lost or stolen credit card to $50, your liability for unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card can be much greater -- depending on how quickly you report the loss." It goes on to state that your liability is $50 if you report the loss within two business days after you realize your card is missing, and $500 if you report the loss between 2 and 60 days. If you don't report unauthorized use within 60 days, you could lose all the money in your bank account!

Posted by: BZ | March 16, 2006 10:31 AM

BZ, you're right and I've corrected the item. Thanks for the catch. Hopefully mostpeople report a lost debit card as soon as they discover it's missing.

Posted by: caroline mayer | March 16, 2006 11:01 AM

Not only that, but I doubt there's any limit to what you can lose through bounced check fees.

Say your checking account gets emptied out and you
bounce a dozen checks before you notice. With the
exorbitant fees that businesses charge for bounced
checks, you could easily be out another $600 ($50
per check), even assuming that your own bank waives its fees.

That why I said "no thanks" when my credit union
tried to foist a Visa debit card on me to replace
my Mastercard + ATM.

Posted by: Burke | March 16, 2006 11:11 AM

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