Tackling Student Debt

At Consumer Reports, we envision a day when every American can get an affordable college education and contribute to society unburdened by the pressure of excessive debt. As part of our mission to help build a fairer, safer, and healthier marketplace, we'll be tackling the problem of student debt—starting with this month's cover package, Student Debt Crisis—and working with you to find solutions.

Right now, borrowing money for higher education is increasingly difficult for people to avoid because of rising college costs and declining household incomes. About 42 million Americans owe $1.3 trillion in education debt. Interest is often fixed at high rates, and student debt, unlike other loans, can be difficult to refinance. And federal loans that are refinanced lose important consumer protections, such as flexible repayment plans. Compounding the problem is the fact that borrowers making repayments usually work with third-party loan servicers, which are not subject to consistent, industrywide standards, leaving them little recourse if they're treated badly. It's a market without sufficient competition, transparency, or accountability.

To address this broken system, we'll focus our attention on making the financial aid process in this country easier to navigate as well as changing how student loans are serviced. That includes working closely with key government agencies to introduce reform and putting our investigative muscle behind articles that inform and protect. We want—and welcome—your feedback. Go to ConsumerReports.org/studentdebt to learn more.

Sound Off on Cable Costs

In the May 2016 issue, we discussed our fight against the high cost of set-top cable boxes, which 99 percent of the country's 53 million pay-TV customers are forced to lease. A lack of competition has enabled cable companies to charge consumers whatever they please. The collective cost of those rental fees is $20 billion each year.

The Federal Communications Commission is finalizing a plan that will open the market to competition, innovation, and more affordable options. But cable providers like Comcast and Verizon aren't giving up cable-box profits quietly.

The industry is pressuring Congress to help kill the FCC plan and recently handed the agency more than 100,000 signatures of people opposed to reform. Help us beat Big Cable by signing our petition at UnlocktheBox.com/ConsumerReports, and tell the FCC that you're tired of paying big bucks for a box you don't want or didn't get to choose.

End Surprise Medical Bills

With our grassroots organizers and our policy advocates, Consumer Reports has been working to close loopholes that result in patients being ambushed by big bills from out-of-network specialists and labs that contract with their in-network hospitals.

Our fight has sparked a national conversation largely driven by thousands of consumers who have shared their stories about surprise billing with us. Like Claudia Knafo from New York City, who was featured in a recent "NBC Nightly News" segment that discussed the $100,000 bill she received following spine surgery that she was told would be covered by insurance. After hiring a lawyer, her insurer eventually dropped the charge.

Those stories are helping us move the needle to protect consumers. Florida's governor, Rick Scott (R), recently signed into law one of the nation's most comprehensive bills to ensure that consumers in emergency and nonemergency situations won't be responsible for out-of-network rates if they don't have an opportunity to be treated by a participating provider. We generated calls, email, and social-media outreach to lawmakers to help get the bill passed. Go to EndSurpriseMedicalBills.org to share your story.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2016 issuse of Consumer Reports magazine.