November 30, 2016
The Huffington Post quoted me in The Real Reason Everyone Complains About Credit Reporting Agencies. It opens,
The most complained-about financial institutions aren’t banks or credit card companies. They’re credit reporting agencies — and by a wide margin.
In fact, the big three credit agencies topped the latest Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) monthly report. Equifax attracted an average of 1,470 complaints during a three-month period from May to July. Experian took second place with 1,272 complaints, and TransUnion had 1,202 complaints. As a category, all of the credit reporting agencies are up by about 30 percent from the same period a year ago.
By comparison, the most complained about bank, Citibank, had only an average of 922 complaints during the same period.
So why all the gripes? To answer that question, you have to take a closer look at a society that’s heavily dependent on credit and at the companies that determine how much credit each member of society gets. But the answer also reveals a broken system and a few workarounds that could help you avoid becoming another statistic.
The CFPB did not respond to a request for a comment about its complaint data. Neither did two credit reporting agencies, Experian and TransUnion. Equifax deferred to the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), the trade association for the credit reporting industry.
Decoding the numbers
A CDIA representative suggested the government’s complaint numbers are inflated because they fail to distinguish between complaints and “innocuous” disputes.
“For example, consumers who are reviewing their credit reports for the first time might question an item they don’t recognize or understand and then lodge a complaint,” says Bill Mashek, the CDIA spokesman. “A consumer might also lodge a complaint against one of the credit reporting agencies when their issue is actually with another entity such as a lender.”
The credit agencies also say the government fails to verify any of the complaints; it simply reports them. And it has no way of weeding out potential errors, such as when consumers question an item they don’t recognize or understand on their credit report.
Consumers have a different perspective. They’re people like Peter Hoagland, a consultant from Warrenton, Va., whose homeowner insurance bill rose unexpectedly this year. He hadn’t made any claims, but soon discovered the reason: His credit rating insurance score taken a hit. He contacted his credit reporting agency. ” I could find no one to give me a credible explanation,” he says.
Hoagland contacted his insurance company and explained the problem, but the company stuck with its rate increase anyway.
“It feels to me that insurance companies are using these ratings as contrived reasons to raise rates,” he says. “They can’t cite claims I have made or increased risk with my home. So they hide behind these dubious insurance score ratings as justification to raise rates.”
David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School , says stories like Hoagland’s are common because credit scores affect almost everyone. They’re also difficult to explain.
“The credit reporting agencies have a big impact on whether someone can get a mortgage to buy a house as well as on setting the interest rate that they will ultimately pay,” he says. “At the same time, they often act in mysterious ways in terms of what they include and do not include on their reports.”