Consumer reporting agencies, also known as “credit reporting agencies” or “credit bureaus,” serve a critical role in a consumer’s financial life. After collecting financial and personal data on individuals; the credit reporting agencies are able to generate the aggregated results into a consumer report, commonly known as a “credit report.” In most lending, credit reports, and the credit scores which are derived from them, form the basis of lending decisions. Many employers also use credit reports and other investigative reports to make hiring decisions. From the ability to pay back a loan to establishing one’s worthiness for a job, the information contained in a credit report can cause substantial injury to a consumer when that information turns out to be inaccurate.
Federal laws, like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, were passed by Congress to require credit reporting agencies to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information” contained in credit reports, and to protect consumers when inaccuracies cause such injury. However, the burden is still heavily on the consumer when resolving such issues because those federal laws require consumers to know what is on their credit reports and to take action when inaccuracies are discovered. For this reason, it is critical that consumers take advantage of the federal law which requires the agencies, which are Equifax (including credit files owned by CSC Credit Services), Experian, and Trans Union, to provide them with one free credit report each year. To obtain your free annual report go to the only official site: www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Credit Reporting Reform Underway
Major changes are underway to the credit reporting industry. Last year, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union announced that they would change the way they handle credit disputes and unpaid medical bills. Credit experts say the announcement marks the biggest reform for the credit reporting industry in more than a decade. Most importantly, these changes will help millions qualify for better interest rates on student, home, and auto loans.
The credit reporting agencies announced that they would be more diligent when it comes to resolving consumer disputes. Until the promised changes are made, the industry standard for handling disputes goes like so:
1) A consumer disputes inaccurate information with documentation backing up the dispute.
2) The staff at the credit reporting agencies would take the disputed information and contact the furnisher who is reporting it.
3) The furnisher replies to the credit reporting agency by confirming that the information is what they are reporting.
4) The staff at the credit reporting agency relays confirmation of reporting to the consumer. No further action is taken. No one actually investigates to see if the information itself is wrong.
The credit reporting overhaul will improve this very dispute process. Credit reporting agencies will be required to use trained employees to actually review the documentation accompanying the dispute. And, if a furnisher says its information is correct, the credit reporting agencies must still look into it and resolve the dispute.
In addition, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union announced that they will change the way they handle unpaid medical bills. Prior to implementing these changes, when a credit reporting agency received medical bill information from a collection agency, they would immediately report the delinquency. The credit reporting overhaul will now require the credit reporting agencies to wait 180 days before adding any medical debt to a consumers credit file. This grace period was designed to mirror the lag time created by insurance companies as they tend to be slower when making payments.
These changes will be implemented nationally over the year.