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Consumer Reports applauds major credit bureaus for permanently extending free weekly to credit reports

CR Had Called on the Credit Bureaus To Make Free Access Permanent and Is Now Urging Them To Do More To Ensure Reports Are Accurate 

YONKERS, NY – Consumer Reports praised the three major credit reporting agencies today for announcing that they are permanently extending to consumers free weekly access to their credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.  CR has long called on Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to make free access permanent so that consumers could more easily check their credit reports for errors.

The credit bureaus started providing free weekly access to credit reports during the pandemic, which was set to expire at the end of this year.  CR launched a campaign over the past few years calling on the credit bureaus to make free access permanent and gathered nearly 50,000 signatures on a petition urging them to do so. CR is now launching a new petition to the credit bureaus calling on them to do more to address the increasing number of consumer complaints about mistakes on credit reports. 

“Credit reports play a critical role in all of our lives because they are the key to qualifying for affordable credit and other opportunities that help us build financial security,” said Ryan Reynolds, financial fairness policy analyst for Consumer Reports. “We applaud the credit bureaus for empowering consumers with free access to their reports on a permanent basis so they can help ensure they are fair and accurate. Consumers should never have to pay to access their own financial data.”

Ryan continued, “Mistakes on credit reports are all too common and can have serious consequences, especially for those who are already struggling to make ends meet. The credit bureaus must step up their efforts to ensure credit reports are accurate by fully investigating all consumer complaints about mistakes on reports so they are free of credit-damaging errors.”

Consumer complaints about credit reports submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have risen dramatically in recent years.  Inaccurate information on reports has been the top credit-report related complaint according to the CFPB’s database. Credit report errors can hurt your credit score and prevent you from getting a loan or credit card or trigger a higher interest rate to borrow money. Damaged credit scores can also affect whether you are hired for a job or can rent an apartment.

Credit report errors can include accounts or loans that have been paid off but appear unpaid, individual loans listed multiple times, and debts that are incorrectly reported in collections. Misspelled names, wrong addresses or incorrect birth dates on a credit report can also cause problems for consumers. Other mistakes can be particularly serious like “mixed files” – when information from someone else with a similar name or Social Security number appears in the wrong report or when fraudulent accounts are listed in a report as a result of identity theft.

Estimates vary on how commonly errors appear in credit reports.  More than a third of nearly 6,000 volunteers who participated in Consumer Reports’ Credit Checkup project in 2021 found mistakes when they reviewed their credit reports.  A nationally representative CR survey of 2,174 US adults in January 2022 found that 14 percent of people who had ever checked their credit reports said they found errors. In 2012, the FTC found that 20 percent of consumers had at least one verified error on their credit reports, and that five percent had errors that could make them pay more for products such as a car loan or insurance.

Given the importance of credit reports, Consumer Reports is advising consumers to check them regularly to make sure they don’t contain any errors. If you find mistakes on your credit reports, CR recommends taking the following steps:

  • Prepare dispute materials for each bureau:The three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – don’t communicate with one another, so it’s smart to contact each one. Filing a dispute with each credit bureau, instead of the lender or bank, offers protections governing how quickly it must be handled. It also provides a legal pathway to sue the credit bureaus and creditors or collectors, if necessary.
  • Gather evidence:If you are filing a dispute about debt that’s reported incorrectly, include account statements or payment records. Credit bureaus can dismiss claims without enough backup information as “frivolous.” And resubmitted claims can be denied if they’re considered similar to previous ones.
  • Create a paper trail:Write a letter explaining the problem. Avoid using standardized online forms provided by the credit bureaus, which might oversimplify your dispute by requiring you to choose among predetermined check boxes. Plus, by submitting your dispute online, you could unwittingly waive your right to sue as an individual or in a class action.
  • Send all materials by certified mail:Keep copies for yourself. This makes it easier to confirm that the credit bureaus follow the lawful timelines. Credit bureaus have five days to get the disputed information to the financial institution or debt collector that supplied the information. If that company doesn’t investigate and respond to the dispute in time, the credit bureaus are legally required to delete the information.
  • Submit a complaint to the CFPB: Explain the error and lack of resolution. Include important dates, amounts, and communications with the credit bureaus and attach any supporting documentation. You can submit a complaint here.
  • If you lose your dispute, consider working with an experienced attorney: You can sue a credit bureau or financial institution over credit report errors. Find an attorney through the National Association of Consumer Advocates at consumeradvocates.org

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org