You might not think it, but March has been a great month for consumers, especially in Florida. Yes, fuel prices are up and inflation is high. There have been a few new developments on the state and national level. These developments are game changers for the Florida consumer so let’s explore what’s new.
Financial Education Requirements
Interestingly, up until this week financial education has not been a required course for public school students in Florida. After much wrangling and years of effort, our legislators have changed that. Florida Senate Bill 1054 will take effect July 1, 2022. This newly approved legislation “revising the required credits for a standard high school diploma to include one-half credit of instruction in personal financial literacy and money management…” is a game changer for Florida consumers. People armed with more knowledge can better avoid financial pitfalls and become financially stable.
Students will learn about tools to build assets and avoid overextending on debt. Topics to be covered as listed in the statute include budgeting, credit scores and applying for loans. Extension Agents like me teach these topics as well. I will not mind be able to teach other topics when my financial education classes are no longer necessary. That will mean we all know our financial skills as well as we know how to read and write. More residents making smart financial decisions leads to stronger local economies. With assets, consumers have more opportunities to build wealth and afford a higher education. Armed with the right tools, we can work toward generational wealth instead of generational poverty.
Overdraft Fees are SO Last Year
An amazing trend amongst national financial institutions this year is the elimination of overdraft fees. Banks across the country are announcing their new effort to protect the consumer from unnecessary charges. According to a recent article, Citibank is the largest financial institution to completely walk away from overdraft fees. Since those fees hit an average high of $33.58 just last October, this is a big chunk of money the banks are giving up. After making record profits year after year from just bank fees alone, this new trend is a game changer for Florida consumers.
We consumers have long known the real impact of these overdraft fees. We all face unexpected expenses at some time or another. Sometimes it seems like everything is due at once. When this happens and drains our bank account, it just adds insult to injury to get hit with that extra fee. Check with your bank to see if they have eliminated or revised their overdraft policy. It is important to know what actions we might take that can cause a fee. This way we can be sure to avoid unnecessary costs as much as possible.
Credit Report Changes
All three major credit bureaus announced this week that they would be removing most medical collections from individual’s credit reports. This is a total game changer for Florida consumers. Consider this – just a decade ago, the number one reason reported for filing bankruptcy was overwhelming medical expenses. Even with medical insurance, out of pocket costs and meeting high deductibles can derail a family’s spending plan.
The bureaus explained in their announcement that it will take time to make the changes – about a year. Going forward, for a medical collection to end up on your credit file, the unpaid balance must be at least $500. Plus, it will only be reported one full year after it has been sent to collections. This will give consumers more time to resolve a collection before it impacts a credit score.
In the meantime, be sure to visit annualcreditreport.com to see your credit reports. That is the one site on the internet that gives you your free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Check all three bureaus at once and make sure each file is accurate. Or check each bureau every four months to provide your own credit monitoring service to yourself.
In a Tight Spot But Armed with Better Weapons
With all these changes, it almost feels like consumers are being recognized for their importance. While we battle rising costs and tighter credit restrictions, we have knowledge and power to fight back. We vote with our dollars. We can change company policy by demanding our collective values are recognized. We have the backing of government entities like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). We can be Game Changers ourselves.