Big Brother is watching ... your finances. The three major credit-reporting companies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—maintain files on roughly 220 million Americans. If the information about you is not accurate, you could be forced to pay a higher interest rate, or you could be rejected for a credit card or loan.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new federal watchdog agency, has announced that it will supervise 30 of the largest credit-reporting agencies (there are actually about 400). According to Richard Cordray, the CFPB director, the bureau will examine the accuracy of the data the agencies receive, how the companies maintain and assemble the information in consumers’ credit reports, and how the agencies manage dispute resolution.
The CFPB’s tough new oversight is welcome news. By some estimates, as many as 25% of credit reports contain errors. A yearlong investigation by the Columbus Dispatch of complaints involving credit reports on file with the big three agencies found bank-approved short sales listed as foreclosures, paid-off car loans listed as repossessions, and closed credit card accounts listed as delinquent. So you still need to be vigilant about checking your credit report. To request a free report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to one free report from each of the big three once every 12 months.
If you do discover an inaccuracy, write to the credit agency and be sure to enclose any supporting documentation. The agency must investigate, provide a written report and correct any errors it discovers. If that doesn’t work, contact the CFPB for help.
This article first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more help with your personal finances and investments, please subscribe to the magazine. It might be the best investment you ever make.