Assure good credit where it’s due
In a perfect world, folks who paid all of their bills on time would benefit from their fiscal responsibility on their credit reports.
But in this imperfect world, 26 percent of the roughly 200 million people monitored by the credit reporting industry in the United States had at least one “potentially material error” on one of their credit reports, according to an eight-year government study released this week by the Federal Trade Commission.
And about 20 percent of those who tried to have those mistakes corrected failed in their efforts.
Howard Shelanski, director of the FTC’s economics bureau, aptly described those statistics as “eye-opening numbers for American consumers.”
Mr. Shelanski also stated the obvious with this warning: “The results of this first-of-its-kind study make it clear that consumers should check their credit reports regularly. If they don’t, they are potentially putting their pocketbooks at risk.”
Federal law allows consumers to get a free credit report each year from the three major firms that produce them — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. A website (www.annualcreditreport.com) has even been created to facilitate that process.
The Consumer Data Industry Association points out that less than 3 percent of the credit reports in the FTC study contained errors which were likely to lower credit ratings.
But when extensive research shows that more than a quarter of Americans have had mistaken credit reports, the risk of unfair — and expensive — consequences is much too high.
As Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” put it on that CBS program: “A mistake on your credit report can cost you money. It can increase the interest you pay on loans, prevent you from getting a mortgage or buying a car, landing a job or getting a security clearance.”
And again, fixing mistaken credit reports isn’t easy. More from Mr. Kroft:
“If you challenge a credit report and mail your information to a post office box in the United States, the dispute will likely be investigated in India, or the Philippines or South America.”
Indeed, that “60 Minutes” story featured interviews with three former Experian employees in Santiago, Chile. They conceded that while working the phones for Experian’s “consumer assistance center” they rarely could offer much assistance to callers seeking to correcting flawed credit reports.
Uh-oh. That’s the same Experian, a global enterprise based in Dublin, Ireland, now helping those who paid South Carolina income taxes from 1998-2011 sort out the appalling cyber breach of those state Department of Revenue records.
Presumably, our state officials will assure that Experian does that job well.
Just don’t assume that your credit report is accurate.
And if it’s wrong, good luck in making it right.