Polls find unpleasant financial truths

Amid this year's deluge of holiday spending surveys by companies trying to grab some attention, several other recent polls and studies are addressing arguably more important issues, such as financial bullying, money spent on financial literacy and whether "Made in USA" is better.

Here is a sampling.

UNFAIR FIGHT? Financial services marketers, such as banks promoting credit cards, outspend financial education efforts 25-to-1, according to a recent study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And that doesn't even include marketing spending on the two huge areas of investments and insurance.

"When consumers receive the vast majority of their financial information from companies that are trying to promote an image or sell products, consumers have very little unbiased information," said bureau Director Richard Cordray, who called the difference in spending "staggering."

The report found that the financial services industry spends about $17 billion a year marketing financial products and services to consumers, but only $670 million is spent annually to provide financial education to consumers.

Where to go for unbiased financial information to educate yourself? There are many resources, including books and some blogs. A well-regarded general book, for example, is "Personal Finance for Dummies" by Eric Tyson. Always assess who is giving the information and why. The bureau hosts a site at http:consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb, as does the Federal Trade Commission, at http:consumer.ftc.gov.

CREDIT BUREAUS UNEVEN AT CORRECTING ERRORS: The good news is that thousands of consumers with errors on their credit reports are getting relief through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bad news is, credit reporting agencies vary widely in how they respond to consumer complaints, according to an analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund. For example, Equifax responded to more than half of consumers with relief, while Experian helped only 5 percent, with the other major agency, TransUnion, in the middle. The report used data collected by the financial protection bureau's public Consumer Complaints Database, created to help consumers resolve problems with their credit reports.

Studies have found that millions of Americans have serious errors on their credit reports. That's potentially a big deal because errors can hurt a consumer's ability to get an affordable loan, rent an apartment or even land a job. Check your reports for errors once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.

"MADE IN USA" MYTH? People might assume that products made in America tend to be more costly but are superior in quality. But a recent study, which was more anecdotal than scientific, found no evidence of either. Cheapism.com, which looks for value among lower-priced brands within product categories, sent a researcher into a Walmart, which has been touting its "Made in USA" offerings, to buy and test several items made domestically against imports.

Items included socks, towels, skillets, light bulbs and kitchen mats. The findings? The cost was about the same: U.S.-made items cost a total of $57.50, while imports totaled $55.46. But quality varied, with no clear winner.

"Although we're happy to get on board the USA-made train, we also pay homage to value pricing and quality performance," the report said. "We found no clear-cut association among country of origin, price and quality."

Of course, many people prefer American-made products for philosophical or political reasons more than value reasons.

Gregory Karp writes for the Chicago Tribune.


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