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Should Spanish speakers also enjoy the right to free credit reports?

January 19, 2006

Millions of Spanish-speaking consumers face
difficulty in obtaining free annual credit reports

Under new law, report, application and toll-free lines are only available in English

SAN FRANCISCO and AUSTIN – Millions of Spanish-speaking consumers are having difficulty in obtaining their free annual credit reports due to a language barrier, which is why Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, called today on the three credit reporting agencies to voluntarily make this information available in a bilingual format.
In Puerto Rico, the Secretary of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Alejandro García Padilla, today issued a similar call on the agencies to provide access to the information in Spanish. (See www.daco.gobierno.pr/.)
In a letter delivered Thursday to Equifax, Experian y TransUnion, Norma García, senior staff attorney with Consumers Union in San Francisco, wrote: “Full access to this new right can have a positive impact on reversing the trend that often makes Latinos with limited or no English-language skills, favorite targets for identity theft. Knowing one’s credit score and the benefits of accumulating good credit can lead to a lifetime of better money management and an individual being able to achieve his or her financial goals.”
As a result of a federal law adopted in 2004 and implemented in stages last year throughout the U.S. and its territories, every consumer today has the right to obtain a free credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies through the central Web site, www.annualcreditreport.com. But the agencies have fallen back on the position that the law currently does not require them to provide this information in multilingual format, even though serving this growing market now would likely position them most favorably in the long run.
According to Census Bureau statistics, approximately 30 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home. About one-half of this total does not speak English very well or in many cases cannot speak it at all. In Puerto Rico, more than 2.5 million out of a population of approximately 3.6 million (72 percent) experience a similar situation.
“A good credit record is the key that unlocks economic opportunity in our society,” said Rafael Ayuso, spokesperson for Consumers Union and editor of its Spanish Web site, www.PoderdelConsumidor.org. “We are well aware of the frustrations that exist among families that want access to this information but are unable to obtain it. Although current information is very useful, it is not available in Spanish and calling the toll-free number won’t help if you don’t speak English.”
The request to the credit agencies is even more important because 22 percent of Latino borrowers – many of them immigrants – have no credit record at all, compared to 4 percent of White families, according to a study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In many other cases the credit history is insufficient or they may have a low credit score attributable to debt avoidance. While these consumers may be financially responsible, they often operate outside the economic mainstream, paying in cash and having no access to checking accounts or credit cards.
“We believe that the educational aspect of this initiative is most important,” Ayuso noted. “The purchase of a home or a car, or the ability to gain employment or even get insurance at reasonable prices can be affected by our credit history. As more Spanish speakers start learning about how to accumulate good credit, they can take steps to better their standard of living.”
According to a recent analysis by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the lack of access to credit as well as poor credit histories represent a key barrier that stands in the way of realizing the American dream of homeownership.
Meanwhile, a study by the University of Georgia noted that Latino purchasing power has increased from $223 billion in 1990 to $490.7 billion in 2002 and is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2009.
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Norma García, (415) 431-6747, ext. 107; Rafael Ayuso (512) 477-4431, ext. 154