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Celebrate your financial rights
There are loads of laws to protect the little guy. Here are some that work for you.
By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK ( -- As we prepare to celebrate our nation's independence, let's take some time to celebrate some of our rights - our financial rights that is.

From buying a scarf to getting a mortgage, we're going to tell you how the law is on your side.

1: You have the right to get what you paid for

If you buy something with a credit card, you have the right to get what you paid for. Say you bought an item you're unhappy with -- maybe it's the wrong color or size or it doesn't can dispute the charge on your credit card.

This is called a quality claim and it does come with a lot of restrictions, according to Consumer Reports.

First, you must have made a good-faith effort to resolve the problem with the merchant before disputing the charge. The charge has to be over $50 and the sale must have happened in your home state or within 100 miles of your current billing address.

Your first move here is to complain by certified letter in less than two months, according to Consumer Reports. And when you mail it, be sure to use the issuer's address for "billing inquiries" not the payment address.

2: Get their dirty little secrets

If your financial advisor recommends any specific product, ask him to list any commissions, incentives or cash payments they stand to gain. You have a right to know when they're not acting in your best interests.

Plus, you'll also want to get Form ADV. This form lists their conflicts of interest, education and any disciplinary actions, and can be found by going to

You do have the right to sue your broker or go to arbitration if you think you've been treated unfairly. If you think you've been treated unjustly, you can file with the National Association of Securities Dealers at

3: Get a fair mortgage

You don't have to put up with discrimination when it comes to getting a mortgage, refinancing or making home improvements. Lenders can't discourage you from applying for a mortgage or reject your application because of your race, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, age, or because you receive public assistance income.

And they can't impose a higher interest rate or larger down payment because of these factors.

Lenders can't ask about your plans for having a family and they can't require a co-signer if you meet the lenders standards.

If you have been rejected, you have a right to know specific reasons why. If you think you've been discriminated against, contact your state Attorney General or the office of fair housing and equal opportunity, found at, which ensures Americans have equal access to housing of their choice.

4: Collection agencies can't harass you

Getting hounded by collection agencies? Make sure you know the rules. They can't call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They can't call you at work if you ask them to stop. Agents can't talk to anyone but you or your lawyer about your debts.

They can't threaten to garnish your wages or seize your property unless they intend to do it. In fact, garnishing wages is illegal in some states, and in others, it requires a court order.

They cannot threaten you with arrest or jail. It's your right to send a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop.

They may not contact you again, but that does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. If you think a debt collection agency violated the law, you have the right to sue a collector within a year. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000 and attorney's fees.

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. That's or 877-FTC-HELP.

5: Get the Right Credit Score

You have the right to a free credit report every year. Go to or call 1-877-322-8228. You have the right to dispute any information in your file that is incomplete or inaccurate.

And since it's been reported that 1 out of 4 credit reports have errors in them, you'll want to take advantage of this right. If there's negative information on your report (aside from a bankruptcy) that's seven years old, it should be expunged from your record.

Any wrong or unverifiable information must be corrected within thirty days. If you think your rights have been violated, you can sue in state or federal court.


Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and  Top of page

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