Should you give out your zip code in the checkout line?

You’re checking out at the cash register, and at the point of sale, the cashier asks you for your phone number or zip code.

Why do they want that zip code? Most assume it’s to validate one’s credit card. But that’s not the real reason.

It’s because they want to get your address and create a shopping profile on you so they can better market to you. They want to want to know what kinds of products you’re most interested in order to provide them to you. The upside of this is that you may receive some great coupons and deal alerts in the mail. But the downside? Junk mail. Lots of it.

Bed Bath & Beyond just got sued for collecting personal information in order to send unprecedented amounts of unwanted junk mail to its customers.

When Clark is asked to provide his zip code at a check out register, he always politely declines. Most cashiers aren’t used to that. But, most will not pressure you any further about it either. And if you want those coupons (as our penny-pinching producer Joel does), and don’t mind the inevitable pile of junk mail that comes with it, it’s perfectly OK to continue giving out that information.

An important distinction: This does not apply to gas station kiosks and similar “unmanned” places, where one is required to enter a zip code to process the credit or debit card transaction. In these cases, that is a protective anti-theft measure.

Need help dealing with credit card companies?

If your credit card issuer is mistreating you, or if you’re having trouble with your mortgage lender, you’ve got a new place to turn for help.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now taking consumer complaints about credit cards, consumer loans, student loans, mortgages and more.

When you file a complaint with CFPB, they do two things. First, they catalog and code it and use a database management system to figure out if there’s a pattern of problems that call for further investigation.

Second, they send the complaint on to the bank or lender or whoever you’re questioning. The bank is allowed to contract the consumer and try to solve the problem. If they think they’ve solved it, the bank will tell the CFPB, acknowledging that it’s been taking care of. (The consumer may see it differently at this point, but time will tell how well this system works overall. So far, it’s been a great system.)

In my book, this is a very useful process. The opportunity to fix problems and have the feds look for patterns is great. I’m not certain why some Republicans seem to have it out for the CFPB. After all, we taxpayers spent $7.4 trillion to save the banks. Wouldn’t it be nice if they followed the laws of the land?

That’s the goal of the CFPB, to bring them to accountability.

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