WASHINGTON — If there's something's strange in your credit report, who you gonna call?
If something's weird and it don't look good, who you gonna call?
Sorry, Ghostbusters still won't help even though consumers often describe being haunted by errors in their credit reports that they can't get corrected.
If you haven't been successful in getting a credit bureau to address problems with inaccurate information in your credit report, you might have felt alone in pressing for a resolution. You probably had no idea who to call.
That's changing. Now you can call the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The watchdog agency has begun accepting individual complaints about credit bureaus. CFPB will be investigating inaccurate information on credit reports, the improper use of people's reports, the inability of consumers to obtain copies of their reports or credit scores, and problems with identify theft protection services.
"This is a big step for the federal government, which has never had widespread access to information about the credit reporting industry," said Bill Hardekopf, chief executive of LowCards.com. "It will help bring transparency and public accountability to credit reporting agencies. Until now, credit agencies have been like the Wizard of Oz, powerful but unapproachable."
The information in a credit report is used to generate a credit score. Errors in your file can lead to the denial of credit, a job or insurance.
"Credit scores now cast long shadows over many areas of our personal lives," Hardekopf said. "The credit score is how businesses judge you and determine the interest rate you will pay. Every American deserves an accurate report, and the chance to easily dispute errors and get timely corrections."
The credit reporting industry has consistently maintained that the vast majority of reports are error-free and that it is rare for a mistake to affect the credit terms a consumer gets. In a study released last year, researchers found that less than 1 percent of credit reports had errors that could adversely impact consumers. The study was funded with a grant from the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group that represents consumer data companies.
Consumer advocacy groups have produced their own studies showing just the opposite — that many reports are riddled with errors. A much-cited study by the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups found that almost 79 percent of all credit reports had some type of error.
A recent investigation by The Columbus Dispatch looked at 30,000 consumer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general in 24 states. The newspaper found an error rate of about 30 percent. "The complaints document the inability of consumers to correct errors that range from minor to financially devastating," the Dispatch said. "Consumers said the agencies can't even correct the most obvious mistakes: That's not my birth date. That's not my name. I'm not dead."
If you have an issue with a credit bureau, your first stop isn't going to be the CFPB. The agency wants you to initially go through the credit reporting company's complaint process. If the problem isn't fixed, then you should contact the consumer agency. And when you do, you’ll be given a tracking number to check on the status of your complaint. As part of the CFPB's process, you'll have an opportunity to dispute the company's response to your complaint.
The CFPB said it expects the consumer reporting agencies to respond to complaints within 15 days. The response has to include steps they have taken or plan to take to correct any errors.
You have several options to file a complaint. You can go online to consumerfinance.gov/complain or call toll-free (855) 411-2372. You can fax your complaint to (855) 237-2392 or mail it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, Iowa 52244.
With the CFPB on your side, now's a good time to review your credit report. You can receive free copies from the three major national credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — every 12 months. The only official site to get the reports is from http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Please be aware of copycat websites that offer a free report but require you to sign up for credit monitoring or some similar product.
The move by the CFPB to intervene on behalf of consumers with errors they can't get fixed is welcome because the information in the reports affects so many areas of our financial lives. So if there’s something strange in your report, just call.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is email@example.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.