Heading off to college? Banking 101 Part II – National Consumers League

By Alex Schneider, NCL LifeSmarts and Public Policy Intern

Let’s pick up right where we left off—college is expensive and making smart banking choices can save you a lot of cash in the long run. Here are a few more tips:

Put your dollars to work
Sometimes, despite college loans and large expenses, students find they actually make some spending money.  If that applies to you, you may want to consider saving some of it for long-term planning.  While interest rates today make savings accounts, money market accounts, and CDs unappealing for student investors with modest savings,  stock and mutual fund investing is more promising.

As an aside, a general rule of investing is that your first $5,000 – $10,000 of investments should be mutual fund investments, due to the risk involved with individual stocks.  But putting a few hundred dollars per quarter or per year into stocks can be a valuable way to learn about the stock market.

When opening a brokerage account, make sure to review all fees and investing rules.  Some discount brokers don’t charge monthly fees and don’t require customers to make regular purchases.  Before opening an account, consult a fee schedule and decide whether you can afford to pay the fees listed.

Don’t give in when studying abroad
I recently had the chance to study in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I am proud to report I never paid a bank fee to do so.

So how’d I do it?

American banks and credit card companies like to charge foreign transaction fees of 1%-4%, and they also tack on fees when withdrawing money at an ATM abroad.

Some banks have special deals for travelers, but many of those deals are for prominent bank customers, not students without much money in savings.

When heading abroad, I used information at https://www.flyerguide.com to decide which bank to use.  As of this writing, TD Bank, a northeast bank chain, offers banking with no foreign transaction fees, as do all Capital One credit cards.  Starting in March, a few months after my return home, TD Bank started charging $2 per ATM transaction.  Still, by taking out larger sums of money at a time, students abroad can avoid paying the withdrawal fee too often.

Bank of America has a network of banks that includes Barclays in the UK and BNP Paribas in France and does not charge fees to use those affiliated ATMs.

In general, search for a bank with the lowest transaction fees and ATM fees.  And if you have to decide between a 3% transaction fee or a $2 ATM withdrawal fee, save yourself some money and – as long as you can do so safely – pay with cash. 

Avoid at all costs
For all the savings already listed, students will save the most if they remember to say one thing when opening their bank account: opt-out.

Under new federal guidelines, banks must allow customers to opt-out of overdraft protection.

Overdraft protection is a service that costs customers about $40 each time they become overdrawn, or spend more money than they actually have in their checking account. By opting out of overdraft protection, you won’t just save on overdraft fees, you’ll learn to manage your money and only spend what you actually have in your account.

NCL calls on the FDA to investigate misleading labeling on David Sunflower Seed products – National Consumers League

July 28, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League (NCL) today sent a letter to Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D. Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), calling on her agency to review the misleading nutrition facts labeling of David Sunflower Seed products, manufactured by ConAgra Foods, Inc.

“The David Sunflower Seed nutrition panel is terribly misleading,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “The sodium listed is for the kernels only – not for the whole seed. But the back of the package instructs consumers to put the whole seed in their mouth, and in the process, they consume far more sodium than indicated on the panel.”

The fine print on the package, tucked below the list of ingredients, makes clear that when calculating the salt content of both the seed and the shell, the sodium count rises 833% to 1260mg of sodium per serving. A 5.25-ounce bag has 2.5 servings. Consuming a single 5.25 bag would mean a sodium intake of 3,150 mg. Current dietary guidelines recommend that healthy adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Thus, consuming a single 5.25-ounce bag of sunflower seeds would put one’s sodium intake at 850 mg over the recommended daily amounts.

NCL’s letter asks the agency to require the company to indicate a far higher content than is currently listed for sodium and to do so in the place where consumers expect to find it.

“These David Sunflower seeds, when consumed in the way the package recommends, are loaded with sodium. Excessive sodium intake is a leading cause of hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertension, in turn, greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of three (66%) adults in the United States are at especially high risk for health problems from too much sodium – three groups in particular are at risk: those over 40 years old, African Americans and those with high blood pressure. CDC recommends eating less sodium as a means of preventing, lowering or controlling blood pressure.

“With so many Americans suffering from hypertension or pre-hypertension, we need clear and accurate labeling of products so consumers can make healthy choices. We call on the FDA to require that David Sunflower Seed packages indicate clearly – in the place where consumers expect to find it – the sodium content in the seeds and not simply in the kernel.”

Click here to view NCL’s letter to the FDA.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad

Heading off to college? Banking 101 Part I – National Consumers League

By Alex Schneider, NCL LifeSmarts and Public Policy Intern

For high school students heading off to college, there’s a lot to think about.  There’ll be new friends, new classes, and for many, a new place to call home.

Researching what bank to choose probably won’t be high on the list of priorities.  But when you consider all the expenses that build up throughout college, not to mention the difficulty of securing even a minimum wage job in this economy, every penny counts. Taking some time to consider your options could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Ask about fees
The rumors are true: free student checking accounts still exist.  Don’t even think of walking into a bank unless they have a free student account.  It doesn’t matter how conveniently located the bank is or how many lollipops they have in the lobby, it just is not cost effective for students to pay banking fees when so many other banks offer free student accounts.

When opening that free account, remember to ask about the basics so you won’t be caught with hidden fees: What is the cost of out-of-network ATM withdrawals?  How much does it cost to order checks? Are there any minimum balance requirements?  Is a debit card free with the account?  Are you required to have a savings account, too? Are there other costs associated with the checking account?

When it comes to fees, weigh the positives and negatives.  Purchasing 100 checks for $4 isn’t a big deal, but a monthly $8 fee – which amounts to $96 a year and $384 for four years of school –  can be a considerable, easily avoided expense.

Think local
Most students entering college will find they already have a bank account. The best way to ensure easy access to your money, however, is to open a new account with a local branch near your school.  You’ll have free access to local ATMs and you’ll be able to cash checks more easily. If you try using an Anytown Bank debit card at the ATM on college, you might face fees of upwards of $4 per transaction, half paid to Anytown Bank, half paid to the local bank. Avoid the fees and open a new account.  As a bonus, finding a new local bank will get you off campus to see and learn more about the neighborhood around your school.

Open a credit card
The literature on credit cards is lengthy, but the basic benefits are clear: if you open a student card with no annual fee, you’ll build up your credit history while benefiting from purchase protections offered by credit card companies.  If you know you won’t be able to pay your bills on time, however, don’t open the card.  Graduating college with a poor credit history is the worst financial mistake a student can make.

Stay tuned for the next blog post on college banking later this week!

NCL denounces H.R. 2587 which would eliminate key worker protections, legalize retaliation against workers for exercising their rights – National Consumers League

July 26, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League’s Sally Greenberg issued the following statement denouncing the introduction of H.R. 2587, ‘Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act’ which would allow companies to eliminate or outsource work in violation of workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act:

The National Consumers League (NCL), which has been protecting and promoting social and economic justice for workers and consumers in the United States and abroad for 112 years, opposes H.R. 2587, ‘Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act’.

H.R. 2587 would remove the only meaningful remedy available to workers if a company illegally moves operations or eliminates work because workers engaged in protected activities such as organizing a union. An employer can outsource for any reason, except for an unlawful reason. Retaliating against workers for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act is one unlawful reason.

The National Labor Relations Board plays a historic and invaluable role as the body mandated to interpret our nation’s labor laws.  H.R. 2587 would strip away a critical tool in the board’s mandated to safeguard employees’ rights to organize, and to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by employers and unions.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

National Consumers League hails the launch of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; first ever agency to provide consumers with protections in financial transactions – National Consumers League

July 25, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, D.C.— Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act one year ago. This was a sweeping financial reform law designed to overhaul the nation’s financial regulatory system.  On July 21, 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created through the Dodd Frank Act, opened its doors.

This is the first federal agency solely devoted to fighting for the financial protections of average Americans. CFPB has already stood up for consumers by fighting to make lending terms clearer and advocating for commonsense disclosures that plainly detail fees and penalties.

“The tricks and traps in mortgages, credit card agreements, cell phone contracts and so many other documents consumers must sign to get goods and services will now be subject to scrutiny from an outside consumer protection agency,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. Greenberg continued, “Predatory mortgage lending was central to the housing crisis and the hardest hit consumers were lower income and communities of color. As consumer advocates, we welcome the oversight that CFPB will provide over products and services that can help families secure financial stability.”

NCL strongly backs the nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the agency, however members of Congress made it clear they would not support her nomination. Today NCL supports the newly nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the agency. Cordray has a reputation as a spirited advocate for families, and in the past has taken on deceptive mortgage servicing practices that were robbing people of their homes. In the process, he also recaptured $2 billion dollars for retirees.

“NCL decries efforts to block Cordray’s nomination or dilute CFPB’s authority by handing decision-making power to a commission. This will only harm American consumers and hinder the ability of CPFB to deliver relief to so many families,” said Sally Greenberg.

“CFPB must not fall victim to politics. We need a strong CFPB to enforce our nation’s consumer protection laws and help put consumers on a level playing field with banks and other financial institutions,” Greenberg noted.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

We should have listened to Sheila Bair – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The New York Times Magazine recently ran a profile of outgoing Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chair Sheila Bair. Its written by a business columnist whom I’ve come to revere – Joe Nocera. I blogged a while back about Nocera’s wistful interview with a heroic banking CEO who believes that his industry has become greedy and exclusively interested in making money by engaging in transactions for fees, and not by ending money.

In this piece, Nocera talks about why Bair played a heroic role in the finance world over her five-year term. “Alone among the regulators… the FDIC began to home in on subprime lending. By 2006 the subprime industry was running amok, making loans – many of them fraudulent – to just about anyone with a pulse. Most subprime loans had adjustable interest rates, which started low but then jumped significantly after a few years, making the monthly payments unaffordable for many homeowners. The lenders didn’t care because they sold the loans to Wall Street, which bundled them into mortgage-backed bonds and resold them to investors.”

I don’t think I’ve read such a clearly stated, short, and concise description of what caused the collapse of our financial system. Nocera makes all the critical points in the span of a few sentences:

a) none of the regulators but FDIC were paying attention to subprime loans

b) there was fraud involved in many subprime loans – for eg, paperwork altered to make the buyer appear to have a higher salary and take out a bigger loan

c) the adjustable interest rates that kicked up high after a year or two and made the mortgages unaffordable

d) no one had skin in the game – or cared that the loan couldn’t be paid back – because the risk-riddled mortgages were sold to Wall Street almost as soon as the loan was issued

But Sheila Bair and her staff at FDIC knew and they tried to blow the whistle. They called industry players together, pushing them to raise their standards. They wouldn’t do it. She opposed new rules that that allowed reduced capital requirements to cushion against losses. She lost that battle. Bair tried in a number of ways to stem the tide of subprime loans.

Sheila Bair has always stood out to me as a lone voice for strong oversight and regulation of the markets. You cannot live in capitalist economy without strong regulation. Bair maintained her standards and never tired of raising her concerns, even though she often lost her battles. Her term expired on July 8 and she is moving on. With her departure, we lose a highly skilled, outspoken and principled public servant; had we listened to her from the beginning, we might have avoided the terrible economic calamity of the last three years.

The benefits of unionization: a case study – National Consumers League

By Benjamin Judge, NCL Public Policy Intern

Let’s pretend that there are two factories that make the same products for the same company. In one factory the workers are paid $19 dollars per hour and get five weeks of paid vacation. In the other factory the workers are paid $8 dollars an hour with zero paid vacation. Now, what if I were to tell you that the only difference between the factories is the countries in which each factory is located?  That doesn’t seem fair, does it? Well this is a very real example between an IKEA factory in Sweden, which offers good pay and vacation, and an IKEA factory in Danville, Virginia, which does not.

The workers stronghold
IKEA pays its Swedish workers a much higher wage because its workers are unionized and are able to collectively bargain with the executives of the company. Although some in the media considers Sweden a “socialist” state, it should be acknowledged that Sweden is one of the most capitalist nations in the world. The reason it’s now being considered “socialist” is because of its huge social welfare programs and its dedication to worker protections. As stated on the Swedish government’s website, “Employment security and stability are highly valued in Sweden.” It is because of this dedication to labor that Swedish workers are paid well, have safe working condition, and good job benefits.

 The struggle for equal rights
Compared to the Swedish workforce, the average US worker has a harder time unionizing and collectively bargaining, making it much more difficult for employees to improve working conditions. To use the Danville factory as an example, poor working conditions have lead to 1,536 days of work being lost over a 30-month period because of workplace injuries. To combat this, workers in the Danville factory are starting to support the idea of unionizing and have filed for union elections. This is an important step towards getting the wages, benefits, and work conditions that the Virginia workers deserve and would bring American workers more in line with their Swedish counterparts. However, IKEA has employed some dirty tactics in order to stop the workers from unionizing. IKEA recently hired the firm Jackson Lewis, who specialize in employment law, to hold meetings to sway workers against unionizing.

What needs to be done
As supporters of fair labor, we cannot allow IKEA to keep underpaying and undervaluing its employees. Let IKEA know where you stand by signing the Change.org petition urging IKEA to allow their workers to unionize. The petition can be found here.

Committee investigation confirms advocates’ worst fears about “cramming” – National Consumers League

By Alex Schneider, NCL Public Policy Intern 

For more than a decade phone bill cramming has been costing consumers millions of dollars.  But until the recent release of the Senate Commerce Committee’s report on cramming, few knew just how pervasive and insidious this problem has become.

“Cramming” is defined as the placement of unauthorized third-party charges on a consumers’ monthly phone bill.  The charges could be for anything from yoga classes to fax or voice services to credit protection plans.  But overwhelmingly, they have one thing in common: consumers were charged without ever asking to be signed up for the service.

Since the mid-1990s, third parties have crammed these illegal charges onto monthly phone bills, relying on the concept that consumers will pay their bill without painstakingly analyzing each and every line item.  The phone industry said it would clean up its act, but, as Senator John Rockefeller made clear at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee last Wednesday, these voluntary fixes just haven’t worked.

“I plan to introduce legislation that will a put a stop to this,” Rockefeller said. “I simply cannot find any grain of sense in us having to have a hearing like this.”

Astonishing findings

The committee report extends 50 pages and reveals that cramming hurts individuals, government agencies, and businesses of all kinds (including the phone companies themselves!).  The following are a sampling of the committee’s new findings:

  • Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink/Qwest earned $650 million since 2006 in $1 and $2 incremental fees as a kickback for permitting third-party phone bill fees.
  • Crammers have doctored authorization forms to charge consumers in egregious ways, including listing deceased relatives as those who signed up for the services and charging unlikely phone numbers, including dedicated lines used for ATMs, alarm systems, modems, and emergency calls.
  • Companies allegedly offering third-party services operated out of fake mailboxes, fake offices, and fake residences.  In one case, the president of a company had no involvement in the business and had been asked to sign some forms by a friend.  In another instance, the address of a cramming company was listed as “Suite #237,” but the ‘suite’ turned out to be a mailbox at a UPS Store, not the greatest of places to host an office meeting.
  • A gaming service charged to customers by a “company” called EZPhoneBill provided the same games as another free website and had no users despite enrolling 20,000 customers at $14.95 per month.
  • Bill blocking procedures initiated by customers did not 100% guarantee they would not be billed.

Solutions To Cramming Are Within Reach

In a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, NCL urged Congress to follow the lead of Vermont and pass legislation ban third-party charges on landline phone bills.  As we wrote, the findings of the Commerce Committee as well as those of various state Attorneys General, the FCC, and the FTC highlight that there is little legitimate reason why a consumer would want to be billed for a third-party service on their wireline telephone bill.

Indeed, a FCC investigation released last month found that only 20 out of 17,384 consumers actually used the third-party service for which they were billed, a usage rate of roughly 0.1%.

As assistant Attorney General of Vermont, Elliot Burg, noted at last week’s hearing, consumers don’t expect that they can be billed for unrelated products and services on their phone bills.  Thus they aren’t likely to be on the lookout for cramming charges. Lawmakers in Vermont concurred, took action to ban third-party charges, thus saving consumers in that state from future aggravation due to cramming.

Cramming is a Significant Crime with Real Victims

The Commerce Committee estimates that third-party charges on landline phone bills cost consumers $2 billion every year.  That doesn’t include the time and energy that goes into calling customer service to rectify a bill or the losses to businesses that might be required to take precautionary measures to review employee phone bills for potential fraud.

Cramming is not going away.  The fact that AT&T itself has been crammed 80 times, according to Commerce report, is indicative of a larger problem that requires an aggressive solution.  We believe that banning third-party charges on landline phone bills is just that solution.

Consumer Tips for Avoiding Cramming

Until third-party charges are banned, here are some basic steps you can take to avoid falling victim to cramming:

  1. Contact your phone company and ask to opt-out of third-party billing.
  2. Watch for any changes in your monthly phone bill.  Even a change of a few dollars could indicate a cramming charge.
  3. Be careful about answering phone surveys or Internet surveys that ask for your phone number, or participating in online sweepstakes.  If you do participate, make sure you understand any charges you may incur.
  4. Before paying your phone bill, scan for a “third-party” charges section.  If you do not recognize the charge and if you have any questions, immediately call your phone company.
  5. Learn more from the FTC and FCC about filing a complaint or file a complaint directly with NCL at www.fraud.org.

Meet NCL’s 2012 intern class – National Consumers League

Kae Saelee, California State University, Fullerton located in Fullerton, CA, Senior/ Expected Graduation: December 2012, Major: Criminal Justice with minor in Sociology, Cal State DC Program

What’d you work on at NCL?

I worked closely with John Breyault on various consumer fraud issues. I reviewed a selection of major US radio stations for deceptive advertisements, conducted research on people who were hurt by unlicensed professionals and provided ideas to help with our proposal for a partnership with Facebook. I have helped write LifeSmarts questions to keep the program content current. For Sally, I logged on my experience with the DC Metro system. I have also worked collaboratively with other interns on improving our NCL page on various social media network Web sites.

Any highlights?

I enjoyed attending congressional hearings on the Hill. The most interesting thing I experienced was learning from everyone what they are working on. I was fascinated with the way each staff member was involved and took on unique responsibilities in their respective field. I definitely enjoyed working with the interns and above all, the staff! I always felt welcomed and was provided with great support.

What do you want to do in the future?

I plan on pursuing a career in federal law enforcement.

What was it like to live and work in Washington DC?

Moving to DC from California was definitely a culture shock. I love the politics, diversity of people and public transit. Celebrating 4th of July at our Nation’s Capitol was amazing, by far the best fireworks yet.

Steven Dorshkind, Wayne State University/ Detroit, MI, Junior/ 2014, Political Science/Pre-Medicine, The Semester in Washington Politics with The George Washington University

What made you interested in working at NCL?

When I saw that there was an opening in the child labor department, I felt that it was an excellent way to spend my summer. I have a passion for helping people, and children especially; I felt it was the perfect internship.

Any highlights?

I truly loved going to the conferences and meetings be it at the Hill or in some different office. I was always happy being in meetings that directly affect the future of our nation and the welfare of the citizens.

What do you want to do in the future?

I’d love to run for office in the federal government. I want to get both my MD and my PhD and be able to save people both on the operating table and in my policies.

What was it like to live and work in Washington DC?

Truthfully, it was one of the most fulfilling and memorable experiences in my life. I have never felt so strongly about my future and I feel like D.C. is truly a place for me to be in the future and I’d love to come back and keep on fighting for causes I support. This experience has forever changed my perspective on life and the way I live, I’m completely thankful for all the opportunities I received out here.

Christiana Oatman, University of the Pacific—Stockton, CA, Rising senior, class of 2013, Major: History, minor in gender studies, The Fund for American Studies (Institute of Political Journalism)

What made you interested in working at NCL?
The organization has a strong history in association with the progressive movements of the early 20th century. I am passionate about social justice issues, and thought NCL would provide me with the opportunity to fight for people’s rights.

The communications aspect of my internship sounded interesting as well.

What did you work on?

I worked in Communications. During my time at NCL, I also worked on fraud alerts. I updated the Twitter and Facebook feeds, and made suggestions on how to improve our social networking sites. I wrote multiple blog posts and articles for the NCL Web site. I did a “news roundup” every morning.

Any highlights?

A highlight was following Sally to the table saw testimony and to the ABC news interview.

What will the future hold?

I am excited to bring my knowledge about consumer rights and issues back with me to Stockton, CA. I am going to graduate in the spring, and I will definitely use what I learned here in order to help me find a job that I am interested in. I would definitely be interested in working somewhere that fights for the interests of the many, not the few.

Brianne Pitts, University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA, Rising Senior & May 2013, Honors Interdisciplinary major Political & Social Thought, The Fund for American Studies

What made you interested in working at NCL?

The biggest thing that made me interested in working there was that NCL deals with wage theft, which is very related /similar to the Living Wage Campaign I was involved in at UVA. Because the work was so similar and close to my interests, I wanted to work there right away.

Any highlights?

Highlights would be getting published, going to all those hearings and meetings, meeting important people in the labor and employment community and being in DC upon the passing of constitutionality of the individual mandate of the ACA. I will be coming back to the Living Wage Campaign at my school with a much wider knowledge base and breadth of information and multiple new connections from NCL that I m certain that we will get a living wage for UVA workers this year.

What do you want to do after college?

My long-term career goal was to be a Business Attorney but now from my experiences this summer I want to be a Civil Right Attorney or an International Human Rights Attorney.

Lili Gecker, Brandeis University; Waltham, MA, Class of 2013, Major: Sociology, minors in theatre and art history, Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice World of Work (WOW) Fellowship

What made you interested in working at NCL?

I was excited to work at NCL this summer because it was a great opportunity to be in DC and learn about public policy on a federal level. In addition, NCL’s mission statement is a no-brainer for me. Our country is made up of consumers and workers, and we need advocacy groups like NCL to defend their rights and to demand that the government do the same.

What did you work on?

As a public policy intern, I worked on research topics ranging from cell phone cramming, to ticketing issues, to radio fraud. In addition, I had the opportunity to dip my toes into other policy arenas that NCL covers, including public health, food safety, and fair labor standards.

One of the highlights for me this summer was contributing to NCL’s blog. It allowed me the opportunity to work on my research and writing skills, and to express my opinions on topics about which I am most passionate.

What’s in store for you?

I would love to continue working on public policy, advocacy, or organizing. I think I would like a job in the non-profit sector, or maybe a progressive think tank.

What was it like to live and work in Washington DC?

It was a great opportunity to live and work in DC, especially since I am considering returning here after graduation. Highlights included free museums, delicious FrozenYo, and constant political drama.

Katja Meijaard, Amsterdam University College, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 3rd year (senior), graduation in January 2013, Social Sciences. The internship is affiliated with the ICPES program of the Fund For American Studies

What made you interested in working at NCL?

Being from one of the most liberal countries in the world, aiming for equal rights and opportunities is a natural thing. NCL advocates for many things I believe in, such as preventing wage theft and informing consumers about their rights and responsibilities. Additionally, I have always been broadly interested and feel that you should get a great overview of how things are related to each other. NCL covers so many different issues, recognizes their importance and their overlaps. I felt that this focus really appealed to me.

This will always be the summer when the Supreme Court upheld the Health Care Bill, while I was interning at an organization that has been advocating for universal health care! The Court’s ruling took over the whole city and it was so interesting to see how people responded in practice, instead of reading about it.

What was it like to live and work in Washington, DC?

It has been an incredible experience to live and work in the Nation’s capital. The first thing I noticed is how busy the city is and how much energy and devotion people show in their daily routines. Although I was kind of intimidated in the beginning, this work ethic is very contagious. It has been inspiring to see people being passionate about what is going on in the world and wanting to advocate for change. On the other hand, I feel that DC, being the political centre of the world has created a very comfortable environment for the locals. The city is very clean, regardless of the few mice near the student dorms, and most things seem very well organised.

Overall, living in DC and interning for NCL has greatly contributed to my life experience. I got to experience real world politics, got to know inspiring and devoted people and have been part of a great organisation that has only confirmed by ambitions to go into management. I want to thank all of the staff members of NCL for each individually contributing to my DC experience and I really hope at some point our paths will cross again!

Meet NCL’s 2011 intern class – National Consumers League


This summer, NCL was joined by four hard-working student interns from across the country. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work, conducting policy research, writing posts for our Savvy Consumer blog, creating tough new LifeSmarts questions, and doing some investigation regarding unit pricing at local DC-area drug stores and supermarkets. Meet the guys.

Ben Judge, The Fund for American Studies program, University of North Carolina- Asheville, Class of 2014, Political Science with a minor in Economics

Long-term career goal: Consulting focused on risk-management, or economic or policy analysis, or as a staffer for a Congressional Committee, as a lobbyist, or as a fellow at a think tank—or as Ambassador to the Marshall Islands.

What brought you to NCL?

I have always liked the work that consumer groups do, and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of consumers. Doing Student Government Association, I have done advocacy work before, and this is another channel for me to voice the concerns of those who cannot articulate concerns for themselves.

What kept you busy at NCL this summer?

I have worked on various research projects with most of the staff. I drafted a memo on the consumer benefits of improved infrastructure in the United States, also I have helped in writing a letter to a representative endorsing our support for a particular bill on 4G. I researched court cases against the new health care-reform and wrote various blog posts from everything from sunscreen regulation to raising the minimum wage. For Sally I have worked with the other interns on research and suggestions for supermarkets on their unit pricing systems. I created a database of all the missing children and teenagers in Jamaica for the past year. For fundraising, I have been a part of filling out databases regarding donors and information about grants.

An internship highlight

Going to hearings on the hill and interacting with consumer advocates.

On the horizon for Ben

I will be working on my university’s curriculum as the new Academic Affairs Chair in Student Government. Also I will be helping my school with drafting its Campus Master Plan.

What was it like to live and work in Washington, DC?

It’s been an experience that I will truly never forget. Although I have been working harder then I have in my life it has been so worth it. There is something about going to work during the week and doing work that makes a difference, then on the weekends being able to go to the museums and the attractions that this wonderful city has. It makes me want to come back as often as I can and really work on the Hill as career.


Larry Rose, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Class of 2012, Political Science

Long-term career goal: I’m thinking of becoming a lawyer, but not one that protects the pockets of people who already have more than they need.

What made you interested in working at NCL?

I have always been interested in the consumer and labor rights movements. The current political and economic climate has made politicians prioritize the so-called “needs” of corporations over the needs of people. The people need an advocate and I am proud to be one.

What kept you busy at NCL this summer?

I worked on updating our data on check fraud and did some research on the AT&T T-Mobile merger. I also went to some congressional hearings. I wrote several LifeSmarts questions, updated some databases, worked on the Child Labor Coalition’s YouTube channel, and researched whether the Department of Labor’s statistics for minimum wages in the states were up to date.

An internship highlight

I really enjoyed attending congressional hearings. While I still feel that I could do a better job running this country than 99 percent of Congress, it is very interesting to see just how our government works.

On the horizon for Larry

This fall, I am taking 3 300 level classes and a 400 level seminar. This is one of the most difficult course loads available to a student at St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s 400 level classes are all seminars and you are only expected to take one or two of them during your time as a student. To compensate for this, our 300 level courses are far more difficult and require far more work than those at other colleges.

What was it like to live and work in Washington, DC?

Working in DC was very interesting. You always hear people complaining how it is an ugly and corrupt city compared to New York City, but many of the people here are pretty cool and there are places that look completely amazing.


Alex Schneider, Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice at Brandeis, Brandeis University, Class of 2012, Politics, Economics

Long-term career goal: Law and public policy work

What made you interested in working at NCL?

I have always considered myself a consumer advocate, although not necessarily in a formal sense. As Editor-in-Chief of The Brandeis Hoot student newspaper, I often write weekly editorials advocating for greater oversight over student funds. When a vote was put to students to introduce a new fee to provide constant funds for a student group beyond their funding from current tuition, I researched and eventually opposed the idea, sparking discussion in the pages of our newspaper. I have also written to spotlight inconsistencies in the services provided for student housing and to oppose on-campus ATM fees. Working at the NCL has formalized this advocacy.

What kept you busy at NCL this summer?

Over the summer, I have worked closely with John Breyault on various policy issues, including advocating against the illegal placement of erroneous charges on phone bills, or cramming, and against the masking of caller ID phone numbers, or spoofing, with the intent to defraud. I have also worked collaboratively with the other interns on improving the transparency of unit pricing in supermarkets.

An internship highlight

I have enjoyed delving into topics I had never considered, including while working on projects for the Child Labor Coalition and for the NCL’s special project on wage theft.

On the horizon for Alex:

As my senior year begins, I look forward to, first and foremost, no longer being bound to a meal plan, but also to working on a senior politics thesis, continued work on the campus newspaper, and taking a class with our new President, Frederick Lawrence.

What was it like to live and work in Washington, DC?

July 4 in our nation’s capitol was certainly the highlight of living in DC, including the early morning reading of the Declaration of Independence, the display of patriotism at the annual parade, and the fireworks display with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture playing at the Capitol. And compared with the average temperature of 40 degrees that I’ve experienced both at home in Boston and while abroad in Edinburgh since my summer in Washington, DC last year, it is certainly refreshing to live where there’s real heat.

Michael Finch, Roosevelt Campus Network Summer Academy, Middle Tennessee State University, Class of 2012, Political Science with a concentration in Public Administration

Long-term career goal: Legislative assistant for a member of Congress or a committee handling civil rights/civil liberties issues, or work in a similar capacity at an organization off the Hill

What made you interested in working at NCL?

I was interested in working for NCL upon finding out the wide range of issues they cover. I do a lot of fighting for civil rights/civil liberties and consumer and worker rights definitely tie into that category. Making sure that consumers are informed and protected is a basic, but incredibly important, step toward mitigating a wide variety of social justice issues.

What kept you busy at NCL this summer?

I worked on many different issues, which was one of the best parts of the internship. I worked on updating LifeSmarts questions, which helped me learn quite a bit about a huge variety of topics. Like the other interns, I worked on the unit pricing project for Sally, as well as another project for her regarding payment protection plans for credit cards. I also worked on a case of art fraud for John, where a consumer contacted us directly because he’d been scammed out of nearly $30,000. I also helped Michell with some small wage theft projects. I also wrote two blogs, about the payment protection plans, and tort reform.

An internship highlight

The most interesting and enlightening thing I experienced was searching YouTube for personal wage theft stories. I found one video in particular that showed a kind of wage theft that I had never even thought about before, that really drove home the lack of respect some companies have for their workers, and made the issue of wage theft much more real and much more pressing to me.

On the horizon for Michael

I’ll definitely be bringing my newfound consumer advocacy knowledge back to my campus, and the town I live in. I’m a little worried that I’ll be the scourge of whatever employer I end up getting, because I’ll keep them honest regarding wage theft and food safety issues.

What was it like to live and work in Washington, DC?

I was in DC for a congressional internship in 2009, and both times I’ve been here, I’ve loved it. I love the various communities, the diversity, the history of the area, the readily-accessible public transit, the political environment and opportunities…I’ve known since I came here in 2009 that I wanted to live here long-term.