Credit bureaus collect all sorts of information about us from creditors, and this information is used to make decisions about whether we deserve a loan, a job or an apartment. There are some 400 credit bureaus in the United States, but oversight has been a mixed bag -- in other words, not much.
That's about to change Sept. 30. The one-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will begin oversight then of about 30 of the largest of these credit bureaus, which make up about 94 percent of the industry's businesss.
The industry, according to the CFPB, issue more than 3 billion credit reports and 36 billion updates annually. And what's in these reports becomes the basis of your credit score -- that 3-digit number that creditors use to give the thumbs up or down on your credit application.
The CFPB says these credit bureaus under its supervision will be required to make reports and undergo on-site examinations similar to what banks must do.
CFPB's director Richard Cordray says in prepared remarks that his agency has three goals:
"First, our oversight of the credit reporting companies will help us make sure that the information provided to them is itself reliable. Lenders and others who furnish information to the credit reporting companies are legally required to have policies in place about the accuracy and integrity of the information they report – which includes identifying consumers accurately, correctly recounting their actual payment history, and keeping their information and recordkeeping in order. Otherwise, their sloppy work becomes the true source of harm to the consumer’s overall creditworthiness. We want to deepen our understanding of the recordkeeping and reporting practices by lenders and we want to see what the credit reporting companies can be doing to test and screen for the quality of information they receive.
"Second, given the number of complaints we have already heard from consumers, and the findings reached in some (but not all) reports on the subject, we want and need to know more about the accuracy of how the credit reporting companies assemble and maintain the information contained in consumer credit reports. Accuracy is critical for consumers and for markets. We recognize that achieving such accuracy takes a great deal of discipline and effort, particularly for a company that is handling and processing a huge volume of information. But because of the increasingly significant role these reports are taking on in our financial lives, the collateral consequences of mistakes can greatly harm consumers. The wrong information may cause them to be denied a loan, to be charged a much higher interest rate, or to be passed over for a job, causing them serious economic hardship. And inaccurate credit reports also deprive lenders of essential information they need to assess credit risk properly."
"Third, we are keenly interested in understanding more about the problems and frustrations that consumers tell us they encounter in trying to resolve disputes about the information contained in their credit reports. Some errors may be unavoidable even in the best of systems. But when consumers find what they perceive to be erroneous information in their credit reports, they should not be burdened by unreasonably laborious processes to get errors removed from their files. There are certainly valid reasons why a credit reporting company must conduct a reasonable investigation when a consumer disputes information, and follow the procedures outlined in the law. But the harm done by errors is borne above all by consumers, and they deserve straightforward, effective, and timely mechanisms for addressing disputed items."
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