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Survey: Complexities And Consumer Fears With Checking Credit Reports For Errors

Many consumers know that they should check their credit reports yearly for errors, but most don't. A recent survey found much complexity and fears surrounding credit reports. WalletHub surveyed 500 adults in the United States during July, and found:

  • 84 percent of survey respondents know that they should check their credit reports at least once each year
  • Only 41 percent of respondents said they check their credit reports
  • 27 percent said they don't have the time to check their credit reports
  • 14 percent said they are afraid to see the contents of their credit reports

WalletHub found that women were twice as likely as men to have the above fear. Millennials were five times as likely than Baby Boomers to have this fear. More findings are listed below.

It is important for consumers to understand the industry. Inaccurate credit report can lower your credit score, the overall number used to indicate your credit worthiness. A low credit score can cost you money: denied credit applications, or approved loans but with higher interest rates. The errors in credit reports can include another person's data co-mingled with yours (obviously, that should never happen), a dead person's data co-mingled with yours, or a credit report that doesn't accurately reflect a loan you truly paid off on time and in full.

A 2013 study by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found problems with credit reports accuracy. First, 26 percent of participants identified errors in their credit reports. So, one in four consumers were affected. Plus, of the 572 credit reports where errors were identified, 399 reports (70%) were modified by a credit reporting agency, and 211 (36%) resulted in a credit score changed. So, finding and reporting errors is beneficial for consumers. Plus, a report in 2013 by the 60 Minutes television news magazine listed problems with the dispute process: failures by the largest three credit reporting agencies to correct errors reported by consumers on their credit reports.

There are national and regional credit reporting agencies. The three national credit reporting agencies include Experian, Equifax, andTransUnion. Equifax operates a secondary consumer reporting agency focused solely upon the telecommunications industry and broadband internet services.

Credit reporting agencies get their data from a variety of sources including data brokers. So, their business model is based upon data sharing. Just about anyone can set up and operate a credit reporting agency. No special skills nor expertise are required. Credit reporting agencies make money by selling credit reports to lenders. Credit reports often contain errors. For better or worse regarding security, credit reporting agencies historically have outsourced work, sometimes internationally.

The industry and executives have arguably lackadaisical data security approaches. A massive data breach at Equifax affected about 143 million persons in 2017. An independent investigation of that breach found a length list of data security flaws and failures at Equifax. To compound matters, the Internal Revenue Service gave Equifax a no-bid contract in 2017.

The industry has a spotty history. In 2007, Equifax paid a $2.7 million fine for violating federal credit laws. In 2009, it paid a $65,000 fine to the state of Indiana for violating the state's security freeze law. In 2012, Equifax and some of its customers paid $1.6 million to settle allegations of improper list sales. A data breach at Experian in 2015 affected 15 million wireless carrier customers. In 2017, Equifax and TransUnion paid $23.1 million to settle allegations of deceptive advertising about credit scores.

See the graphic below for more findings from the WalletHub survey.

2018 Credit Report Complexity Survey by WalletHub. Click to view larger version

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