Comedian John Oliver took credit reporting agencies to task on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” on Sunday, saying the agencies should be more accountable for errors in reporting personal credit information for American consumers.
“Credit reports. The basis for the single-most important three-digit number in your whole life, other than, of course, 311, the Beatles of rap-rock,” Oliver joked, kicking off the nearly 19-minute segment.
Credit reports are no laughing matter and can affect not just your ability to get a loan, as Oliver rightly pointed out, but also your ability to get a job and even a place to live. Errors can be a huge headache, particularly when they’re difficult to prove in the first place.
Errors Abound & Aren’t Always Fixed Quickly
Oliver referenced a 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission, which found, among other things, that one in five consumers had an error that was corrected by a credit reporting agency after it was disputed on at least one of their three credit reports. The study also found that about 20% of consumers who identified errors on one of their three major credit reports experienced an increase in their credit score that resulted in a decrease in their credit risk tier.
What Oliver didn’t address was a follow-up FTC study of credit report accuracy issued in January 2015, which found most consumers who previously reported an unresolved error on one of their three major credit reports believe at least one piece of disputed information is still inaccurate.
Of the 121 consumers from the 2012 study who had at least one unresolved dispute, 37 (31%) said they accepted the original disputed information on their reports as correct. But 84 of these consumers (nearly 70%) said at least some of the disputed information is inaccurate. Of those 84 consumers, 38 of them (45%) said they plan to continue their dispute and 42 (50%) plan to abandon their dispute. Four consumers were undecided.
“We can all appreciate humor,” Stuart K. Pratt, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, said via email. “However, the consumer data industry feels that a serious subject such as this should be dealt with in a transparent way that helps inform consumers. Our members continue to make significant investments in technology and ideas that are consumer-focused. … Credit reports are important financial tools that can help consumers improve their quality of life, and we take their accuracy very seriously.”
How Checking Your Credit Can Help
While Oliver called for the credit bureaus to take more responsibility for the information they report, he also noted that consumers should take it upon themselves to check their credit reports to ensure the information is accurate.
Federal law provides for everyone to get a free copy of their credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These companies are required under federal law to provide a dispute process that consumers can use to get errors removed from their credit reports. (You can read more about how the dispute process works here.) If you uncover a lot of errors on your credit report or just don’t want to do through the dispute process, some consumers choose to hire a credit repair company to do the work for them.
You can also keep an eye your credit and make sure errors aren’t actively being added by checking your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. If you see a big drop in your credit score that doesn’t make sense, it may mean it’s time to take a closer look at your credit report.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
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