Helpful legal organizations and government agencies
If paying your bills is becoming difficult and you want help negotiating lower monthly debt payments, contact a nonprofit credit counseling office (most are known as Consumer Credit Counseling Service) affiliated with the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). To find a NFCC-affiliated office, go to www.nfcc.org or call 1-800-388-2227.
If information in your credit record causes a denial of credit, housing, employment, or insurance, request a free copy of your credit report from whichever national credit reporting agency caused the denial. The three national credit reporting agencies are:
Equifax (Disclosure Department, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374)
Experian (National Consumer Assistance Center, P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013-2104)
TransUnion (Consumer Disclosure Center, P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022
If a mortgage lender denies you a loan or a seller refuses to sell you a home and you believe that you’re being discriminated against, file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD by going to the department’s Web site, http://www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm or by calling 800-669-9777. File your complaint within one year of the incident.
Is there an unsafe or unhealthy situation at your workplace? Bring it to the attention of your employer or contact the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at 1-800-321-6742.
When you want to apply for Social Security benefits — retirement, survivor, or disability benefits — call 800-772-1213 or go to the Web site of the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov.
If a telemarketer contacts you with an offer that sounds too good to be true, or if you receive such an offer via the Internet, check out the offer by contacting the National Fraud Information Center/International Internet Watch Center at 1-800-876-7060. You can file a complaint if you are a fraud victim at the Center’s Web site, www.fraud.org.
The Auto Safety Hotline maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides information about auto safety and new and used vehicle recalls. Call the hotline at 1-888-327-4236 or visit www.nhtsa.gov to find out about safety recalls, to file a defect report, and much more.
For a fill-in-the-blanks living will that is legally-valid in your state, contact Partnership for Caring at: www.partnershipforcaring.org
If you are a small business owner, take advantage of the Small Business Advisor Web site, www.business.gov, a collaborative effort among various federal agencies and managed by the Small Business Administration. The site provides information to help you start and grow a business and to make it easier to weave your way through the maze of federal rules and regulations.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Response Center offers a wide variety of informative publications and fact sheets about the laws that the FTC administers. Read them online, or order hard copies at www.ftc.gov or call 1-877-382-4357.
Sources of free (or almost free) legal information
If you need legal advice but have financial concerns and cannot afford an attorney, look to these resources for free, or almost free, legal advice:
An attorney who practices in the area of law that you need information about: Find an attorney who will give you a free initial consultation (most do). Come to that meeting well prepared and learn all you need to know to resolve your legal problem yourself, assuming it’s relatively simple and straightforward.
Bankrate.com: Give yourself a financial education by spending time at Bank Rate. You’ll find information about a variety of topics, including credit cards, debt consolidation, mortgage and home equity loans, and much more.
The Federal Citizen Information Center: Click on www.pueblo.gsa.gov to access information, on such topics as housing, autos, money, health, employment, small business, scams, and federal government programs. You can also connect to more than 26 million state and local government Web sites and get your questions about a federal government program or service answered by the federal National Contact Center.
The Consumers Action Handbook: Every home in America needs a copy of this publication, which provides practical information for being a smart consumer. It includes reviews of important consumer laws, suggestions for handling your own legal problems and a sample complaint letter, the addresses and phone numbers of offices to contact for help resolving consumer problems, including national consumer organizations, corporate consumer contacts, trade associations; government agencies and dispute resolution programs. To order a copy, write to Handbook, Federal Citizen Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009 or call 1-888-878-3256.
Your Federal Elected Officials: Contact the offices of your U.S. senator and representative for help dealing with a problem you are having with a government agency or program, updates on pending legislation, and more. Hey, they are your public servants! To connect with your U.S. elected officials, call 202-225-3121 or e-mail them. For their e-mail and street addresses, go to THOMAS, the Web site of the Library of Congress, Thomas.loc.gov.
Business Veteran: If you’re an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, check out what SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) has to offer. A national nonprofit organization that is a “resource partner” with the federal Small Business Administration, SCORE harnesses the know-how and experience of retired business owners to help you establish a business or grow an existing one. Get online advice and counseling from SCORE volunteers by going to www.score.org, or visit the SCORE office closest to you. To locate that office, go to the SCORE Web site or call 1-800-634-0245.