MADISON, Wis. (3/5/08)--It's National Consumer Protection Week--a good time for credit unions to remind themselves, and others, about all they do to protect their members and consumers in general. Credit unions are at the forefront of the payday loan alternative movement to protect consumers from exorbitant lenders' fees, they've initiated laws to protect consumers from merchants' lax data storage that results in compromised data and identity theft, they've helped consumers avoid foreclosures on their homes, and they are a force in educating youth about financial management. Payday loan alternatives are springing up all over the country, and many are from credit unions. They include programs such as Better Choice in Pennsylvania and StretchPay in Ohio and several other states. Even one credit union can make a difference. North Carolina's State Employees' CU, for example, has a low-cost payday alternative program with a savings component that helped 100,000 members with no previous savings to accumulate more than $13.2 million in savings (News Now March 4). Credit unions have supported a number of bills in Congress and in the states that provide protection of consumer data or consumers' identity. In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law the Plastic Card Security Act in May, which was the "No. 1 priority" of the Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) on behalf of the state's credit unions and their members. MnCUN helped draft the bill, which makes merchants who mishandle consumers' data responsible for data breach costs. Other states are advancing similar laws. Wisconsin and Washington credit unions are backing similar bills (News Now Feb. 27 and Feb. 19). The California Credit Union League has pledged to renew it efforts to pass a data protection bill after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto Oct. 13 of a league-backed bill to protect consumers from the effects of data breaches (News Now Oct. 16). Credit unions have helped members through the subprime mortgage crisis, by offering affordable mortgage loans, such as the Home Loan Payment Relief (HLPR), by offering first time homebuyers seminars and educational sessions, and by helping consumers who got into trouble with a loan elsewhere straighten out their debts. Credit unions are a prime partner in educating today's youth with the National Endowment for Financial Education's High School Financial Planning Program and providing youth the tools to protect themselves with better financial decisions in the future. The simple existence of credit unions keeps other financial institutions' fees and rates in line, protecting not only their own members but the customers of other financial institutions.