Medical debts are wounding consumers with unfair black marks on their credit reports, consumer advocates told Congress this week. Complex medical bills, aggressive debt collectors and error-prone credit reports are a toxic combination for consumers' financial well-being, critics say.

More than five years have passed since the Great Recession formally ended in June 2009. But for many Generation Xers, it's still not over.

Commission-driven collectors have little incentive to steer borrowers toward programs that help them make affordable payments and complete their degrees, according to a consumer advocate group.

Working through college may put students at risk for a more expensive and longer education experience, but a part-time job after class can do more than soften the financial blow of rising tuition costs.

After debts were erased in bankruptcy, Chase Bank left them marked "unpaid" on people's credit reports as a pressure tactic to boost collections, a class-action lawsuit charges. The bank denies it, but a bankruptcy judge ruled the case has enough merit to get its day in court.

When a family member told me they're skipping college in order to avoid the extra debt, I couldn't bring myself to tell them that they're making a huge mistake. A lifetime of low earnings makes it tough to get by. But so does crushing debt. Here's what the numbers from new studies say.

Recently, I got a shiny new credit card. "Oh, the places you can go," I thought. Then I thought of Virginia's former First Couple, Robert and Maureen McDonnell, convicted of corruption after racking up more than $90,000 in credit card debt.

If your credit card issuer has already sent you a new card featuring a metallic square on its face, congrats. You're ready for the national shift to a data-encryption card technology known as EMV. In fact, you may be more prepared than the majority of U.S. retailers.

Soon after my husband and I found out we were expecting, I drew up a list of "must-have" baby items -- ranging from a car seat and stroller to baby sunscreen. At the time, I thought I was being selective. But when I added everything up, I was shocked: It would cost us nearly $2,000 to purchase the items on my list -- and I hadn't even included diapers and baby clothes, apart from a few basics.

Summer is just winding down, but I've already seen holiday countdowns on the Internet. It may seem crazy early, but retailers are already prepping for holiday shopping season. And if you have your finances' best interests in mind, maybe you should be, too.

I'm turning 30 in a few weeks and, according to some personal finance experts, I've only completed a fraction of the financial moves I'm supposed to have made by now.

Carrying student loan debt can make you question your life choices, stay in more often on Friday nights and promote higher levels of ice cream consumption and now there's data to prove it.

Believe it or not, the same strategies master negotiators use to broker multi-million-dollar business deals can also net you big discounts with retailers, financial institutions, and service providers.

Lenders, potential employers or landlords aren't the only one clamoring for access to your personal credit history. Some health care providers use it to decide whether or not patients can afford costly medical treatment. And even the federal health insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov, uses it to verify applicants' identities.

The new cardholder perks have worn off and reports of rising APRs, complex rewards programs and the spending temptation the card creates have settled in and you're ready to close your retail credit card account. However, you might have other options. Here are a few suggestions based on common retail credit card woes:

In its attempts to hold colleges, universities and vocational schools more accountable for the student debt they generate, the U.S. Department of Education has so far pleased few. Its proposed gainful employment rule is suffering a Goldilocks syndrome in which the public complains it's either too hot (goes too far) or too cold (not far enough). So far no one seems happy with the temperature as it stands.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is taking a fresh look at costly overdraft fees and is considering imposing new rules on the controversial practice.

If you are getting ready to head off to college for the first time (or are a parent preparing to drop your college kid off at school), here are six things you can do before leaving home to make sure you're more financially prepared for college than I was.

Americans use this form of payment six times more than they did in 2000. Click through to learn what it is -- and find 19 other eye-catching numbers.

If you're struggling to curb your urge to splurge, you may want to keep better track of your recent purchases. A forthcoming study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that impulsive spenders tend to conveniently 'forget' just how much they spent the last time they indulged.

The news was a shock: 35 percent of adults have a debt in collection on their credit report, with an average of $5,178 owed. If those numbers sound too high, it's because they are. Debt is a big problem for many people, but a third of the country does not have a wolf at the door.

During the week, I often make stops after work to pick up a few things -- milk, groceries for the night, toiletries and/or an impulse clearance find. On several occasions after swiping my card for these items, I wasn't prompted to sign for my purchase. I had the terminal pen in hand, all ready to sign on that magnetic terminal pad. But instead, the cashier handed me a receipt and said I was "good to go."

Are 1,300 lawsuits a week too many for one lawyer to sign? The federal consumer protection bureau thinks so. It is cracking down on a debt collection law firm in Georgia, sending a warning to collectors who use the court system as muscle.

If you're trying to decide whether or not to buy something, you could have a harder time passing it up if it reminds you of a happy moment from your past. According to a new study forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, feeling nostalgic may cause some people to spend more than they would otherwise.

For the first time in perhaps decades, I received a payment overdue notice. I applied for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card in early spring to take advantage of its 50,000 Membership Rewards points bonus offer with the $175 annual fee waived the first year. I was approved and had to spend $1,000 within three months to get the points. Spending the $1,000 wasn't a problem. Paying the bill in a timely manner was.

I made my 3-part student loan repayment budget. I selected my payment plan. I was starting to come to terms with the monthly sacrifices I'd be making to pay off my student loan debt over the next decade. And then I saw a shelter dog's big brown eyes.

In many states across the country, infant child care is more expensive than a year of tuition at a four-year public university. But unlike college students, most parents don't have access to low-interest loans for day care.

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