Color of Money: Credit Reports Still Not Error-Free

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  • WASHINGTON — Lucky you if you’re one of the many consumers who recognize an error in your credit file and are able to successfully dispute it, get it removed and receive the credit rating you deserve.
    But woe to those who find errors and still have trouble getting corrections from any of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.

    That’s the conclusion of a long-awaited study by the Federal Trade Commission on credit report accuracy.

    Each credit bureau maintains files on more than 200 million consumers, which are used to create credit histories. The information is then used to create credit scores, which can affect consumers’ ability to get a credit card, a home loan, an apartment or even a job. The most widely used credit scoring system is FICO, which ranges from 300 to 850. The higher your FICO score, the better.

    The FTC found that 26 percent of the 1,001 participants surveyed identified at least one potentially material error, such as a late or missed payment. When information was successfully disputed and modified, 13 percent of participants saw a change in their credit score.

    Not all the errors resulted in a significant increase in a consumer’s credit score. But for 5.2 percent of participants, the errors were serious enough that it made them appear more risky and thus resulted in them having to pay more for products such as auto loans and insurance, the FTC said.

    The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives consumers certain rights to dispute and challenge inaccurate information in their credit files. But if true errors remain on people’s reports even after they have challenged the information, the current dispute process is not serving consumers well, the FTC said in its report.

    As often happens with such studies, people see what they want to see.
    The Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade organization, said the FTC’s study proves that the vast majority of credit reports are error-free.

    “The FTC’s research determined that 2.2 percent of all credit reports have an error that would increase the price a consumer would pay in the marketplace and that fully 88 percent of errors were the result of inaccurate information reported by lenders and other data sources to nationwide credit bureaus,” the association said in a statement.

    The association is right. But when you talk about the millions of files being kept, there are still quite a number of people with incorrect information in their reports. The FTC concluded that the impact of errors on credit scores is generally modest (an average of an 11.8-point increase in score), but for some consumers, it can be large.

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