Slow down! That's the big advice derived from this year's list of top complaints from the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the Consumer Federation of America. Often, we're in such a hurry to buy, sell or fix something, we fail to take the commonsense measures that could protect us. Here's a closer look at the list. --By Jean Chatzky
1. Home-Improvement Blues
To avoid problems like poor workmanship, check references on any contractor you use--and get everything in writing.
2. Sour Auto Sales
Problems here crop up mostly with used cars. Make sure you're buying from a dealer with at least several years in town.
3. Costly Auto Repair
Consumers get peeved when a fix seems to cost too much. Get a written estimate before you give the O.K. for any service.
4. Credit Surprises
This covers everything from credit cards that boost interest rates to credit repair that doesn't deliver. Read the fine print.
5. Telecom Trickery
Covers satellite-TV, cell-phone contract problems, etc. Be sure to understand your plan and what you're buying--up front.
6. Debt Harassment
If debt collectors call you at your place of work, firmly ask them to cease and desist. Legally, they have to obey.
7. Identity Theft
This is often a low-tech crime. Your best protection: shredding all discarded solicitations and papers with personal data.