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Credit Cops get a Spanking from New York
NBC news on Monday as the most radical change to credit reporting in decades and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said his agreement with the three major national credit reporting agencies (CRAs) will reform the entire credit reporting industry and protect millions of consumers across the country.
The agreement between Schneiderman and Experian, Equifax, and Transunion reported on Monday requires the CRAs to institute a number of reforms to increase protections for consumers, over a three year period. While the agreement is specific to New York State, it is expected that most of the reforms will be instituted nationwide.
The three major CRAs maintain consumer credit information on an estimated 200 million consumers. Information provided by "data furnishers" such as banks and collection agencies includes the type and amount of debt, both current and extending back seven years, and how consumers have managed that debt. The CRAs aggregate information on individuals into files and provide reports to companies who use them to determine whether to grant credit to potential borrowers and at what cost. The credit reports are also frequently used by employers to check on potential hires.
The Attorney General's office said that in a 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission 26 percent of participants found at least one potentially material error in their credit report and 13 percent received a higher credit score after successfully disputing an error. These findings, Schneiderman's office says, suggest that millions of consumers have material errors on their credit reports.
"Credit reports touch every part of our lives. They affect whether we can obtain a credit card, take out a college loan, rent an apartment, or buy a car - and sometimes even whether we can get jobs," Schneiderman said. "The nation's largest reporting agencies have a responsibility to investigate and correct errors on consumers' credit reports. This agreement will reform the entire industry and provide vital protections for millions of consumers across the country. I thank the three agencies for working with us to help consumers."
The new agreement calls for reforms covering some of the most commonly expressed complaints from consumers about the credit reporting process including accuracy, the fairness and efficacy of complaint resolutions, and the harm done to credit histories due to medical debt.
- Improving the Dispute Resolution Process. Rather than relying as they do entirely in some cases on a fully automated complaint resolution process, the agreement requires that the CRAs have specially trained employees review all documentation submitted by consumers claiming that incorrect information belonging to other consumers has been mixed into their files or that they are the victim of fraud or identify theft. Even in cases where an automated dispute resolution system is employed a CRA employee must review the supporting documentation.
- Medical Debt. Medical debt constitutes over half of all collection items on credit reports and often results from insurance-coverage delays or disputes. Under the new agreement CRAs must institute a 180-day waiting period before medical debt is included in a credit report. In addition, while delinquencies ordinarily remain on credit reports even after a debt has been paid, the CRAs will remove all medical debts from a consumer's credit report once the debt is paid by insurance.
- Increasing Visibility and Frequency of Free Credit Reports. While current federal law provides consumers with the right to receive one free credit report a year from each of the three major CRAs, many are not aware of that fact. The agreement requires the CRAs to include a prominently-labeled hyperlink to the AnnualCreditReport.com website on the CRAs' homepages. Consumers will also now be entitled to receive a second free report each year if they successfully dispute an item on their report in order to verify the accuracy of the correction.
- Furnisher Monitoring. The Attorney General's agreement requires the three CRAs to create a National Credit Reporting Working Group that will develop a set of best practices and policies to enhance the CRAs' furnisher monitoring and data accuracy. This group will develop metrics for analyzing furnisher data, including: the number of disputes related to particular furnishers or categories of furnishers; furnishers' rate of response to disputes; and dispute outcomes. Each CRA will implement policies to monitor furnishers' performance and take corrective action against furnishers that fail to comply with their obligations.
Two additional provisions included in the settlement announcement make specific reference to New York State and were not mentioned in a joint credit release from the three CRAs so is not clear if they apply nationally. The first relates to so-called "payday loans" and prohibits the CRAs "from including debts from lenders who have been identified by the Attorney General as operating in violation of New York lending laws on New York consumers' credit reports." The second requires the CRAs to carry out an extensive three-year consumer education campaign in New York focusing on the free credit reports, and consumers' rights to dispute errors. The campaign must be carried out via public service announcements and paid placements on television, radio, print media, and online and requires the CRAs to expand the consumer education materials available on AnnualCreditReport.com.
Experian, Equifax and TransUnion in a press release on their respective websites announcing the launch of the National Consumer Assistance Plan to implement the agreement's reforms. The release says "This new plan builds on years of work by the credit reporting agencies to enhance accuracy and extends consumer protections beyond the requirements of state and federal law," and lists the five major changes in the agreement.
It concludes, "The U.S. credit reporting system helps consumers build their future by accessing credit for homes, cars, small businesses and even a good education. Both consumers and businesses benefit from reports being accurate as possible, and this National Consumer Assistance Plan will mark a significant step forward."
"This agreement addresses some of the most egregious problems in credit reporting that consumer advocates have complained about for many years," said Chi Chi Wu, National Consumer Law Center staff attorney. "We commend Attorney General Schneiderman and his staff for getting these changes, which should benefit consumers enormously."