Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Eliz. Warren Gets It Right On Credit Score Bullies

This blog was published in Delaware Liberal on December 18

I read with interest that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is submitting legislation to regulate and rein in consumer credit scoring companies on their abuse of our citizens.  This warms my populist heart.  It mainly aims at employer's use of this unreliable and often inaccurate information but at least it is a start for us consumers/job applicants.
When I first retired, I decided I'd finally have the time to check out my credit reports and make sure they were in order.  I'd had no particular problem with getting credit having done some modest real estate investing requiring loans.  Also, I had then a friendly community banker who gave me a heads up on my credit reports.  I noticed then an erroneous item on a mortgage I'd had years earlier and decided to check further, though it seemed  not to impede my qualifying for more current loans.
To my amazement, these companies, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax had attained enormous power over consumers beyond credit and bank loans;  employers were using their data on a massive scale to check out job applicants for "character flaws" and risk issues.
As I got into the process I learned the power these bureaus hold over those persons on whom they report.  They claim no responsibility for accuracy, fading the heat back to the source of the transaction information they receive from their information sources on you and offer little or no help in correcting inaccurate information send to them by retail stores, credit card companies, auto and home loan lenders.  Further, it is on you, not them, to go back to the original source for corrections or modification of their reports to the bureaus.  But, their accuracy is taken for granted by employers it seems.
In my case, I had two issues to "clean up"; an erroneously reported late payment on a mortgage I'd had 15 years earlier and long since paid off and an non-existent late payment on a credit card account of about the same vintage.
Net, net, it took months, about 6 in total, to address these error laden reports and with no help from the bureaus.   I had to go back to the sources, the mortgage company and credit card company, via snail mail at their demand, to provide challenging and correcting information.  Back and forth with endless exchanges until they acknowledged their errors and then documented their errors back to the three bureaus.  Now imagine if I was having to do this in conjunction with a job application or potential employer?  6 months?  I'd be blown out of the water on the job before the correct information was finally documented in the credit reports read by the employers.
The fact is that these bureaus are data base managers of information provided by credit and money lenders and your information depends, in part, on the accuracy of the data entry staffer with the bureau as well as the accuracy of the lenders/credit issuers in their data entry and reporting.  And you have no power over either.  But your job or loan hangs in balance based on their accuracy or correct reporting.  And they, the sources and the bureaus won't help you correct the information or explain the mitigating circumstances.  You're all on your own here and you'd damned well better have the time, persistence and energy to root out the errors and with some luck and minimal cooperation from them, get the record corrected. Often, the result is just permission to write and publish on their reports a brief statement from you on the mitigating circumstances, not a full retraction, deletion of erroneous information or complete correction of the record.  At least, not unless you're in a position to hire an attorney.
So, thank you Senator Warren for standing up for the little guy or gal.  And, Senators Coons and Carper, are you on board with justice for consumers in this case?  Will you sign on?  Why aren't you co-sponsors?