The overwhelming majority of Massachusetts residents believe they carefully manage their finances, but many lack basic financial knowledge and only abut half routinely check credit reports, according to a survey commissioned by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
The telephone poll of 500 state residents, conducted in April, found many residents were not aware that state-chartered banks are required by law to offer free bank accounts to children, young adults, and seniors, or that they can return defective products to merchants. Many were also unaware of the the existence of the consumer affairs agency.
The poll found 91 percent of residents reported they manage their personal finances “very” or “somewhat” carefully. In addition, 75 percent of residents said they were aware they could obtain a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year, but only 52 percent said they actually do so.
Many consumer advocates recommend consumers check their reports regularly at www.annualcreditreport.com so they can spot fraud or other problems quickly and resolve them before they affect their ability to obtain a loan or a job.
“It seems like there is a little bit of a disconnect here,” said Barbara Anthony, who oversees the consumer affairs agency. Without regular checks of credit reports, Anthony said, “you don’t know whether it’s accurate or whether someone else has taken out credit in your name.”
The survey also found that 39 percent of residents did not know that by state law they could return a defective product for a refund or replacement, regardless of the store’s refund policy. Just over half of all residents said they were aware of the consumer office.
But only one-third of residents who earned less than $25,000 a year said they knew they about the office, which tries to help consumers who file complaints about businesses or who need information.
The poll also found that only about half of residents knew that state-chartered banks are required to offer accounts with no monthly maintenance fees for customers under 19 and seniors 65 or older, although seniors were much more likely to be familiar with the accounts.
Most community banks are chartered in Massachusetts, while bigger banks that operate in multiple states generally operate under a federal charter and are exempt from most state banking laws.