By Mandi Woodruff
We're still at least a year away from laying eyes on the FTC's decade-long review of credit reporting agencies, but a new study from a consumer watchdog gives an interesting preview at what we might be in for.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau analyzed data from the three largest CRAs –– Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion –– over the last year.
We pored over the 38-page report. Here are a few of the most staggering findings we came across:
1) Credit agencies are letting an automated system pass off 85 percent of all consumer disputes.
Why you should care: Much of the reason CRAs are under the microscope now is to figure out just how accurate they are. According to the CFPB, of the 8 million disputes filed by consumers in 2011, CRAs only fielded about 15 percent in-house. They sent the lion's share off to an automated system called eOSCAR, which in turn passed them off to whichever creditor was responsible for the data in dispute.
Here's the troubling part: For the most part, eOSCAR isn't equipped to handle supplementary materials consumers may send in to plead their case –– like letters or other documentation of their credit history. That means your creditors may never see them. Instead, eOSCAR labels disputes with one of two codes depending on their content and just 26 percent are sent to creditors with any sort of extra information.
According a rep from the Consumer Data Industry Association, timeliness is the main driving factor behind the use of the system:
"The complaint is then sent by computer to the lender who replies in kind. The lender, therefore, knows what the dispute is about (usually the amount owed on a credit card or loan) and responds appropriately," Norm Magnuson, Vice President of Public Affairs, said in an e-mail.
2) More than half of the information in the credit bureau databases are supplied by the credit card industry.
Why you should care: Since data like credit limits, payment history, and delinquent activity are essentially the biggest factors in determining your overall credit health, it's important to understand which creditors are supplying that information the most. According to the CFPB's report, 40 percent of that information is being supplied by credit card companies, and 18 percent comes from retail credit cards. In contrast, just 7 percent comes from mortgage lenders or servicers and 4 percent from auto lenders.
3) Fewer than one in five people get copies of their credit report each year.
Why you should care: This is a pretty dismal statistic. Downloading a recent credit report every year is the surest way to sound the alarm on any inaccurate information. It's also completely free to consumers (www.annualcreditreport.com). Of the 44 million consumers who could get a report, only one in five actually bother.
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