More than a third of consumers who recently checked their credit reports found mistakes in them, a Consumer Reports survey found.
Many of the nearly 6,000 consumers who participated in the Consumer Reports Credit Checkup project also reported having difficulty getting their free credit reports online, while others said they were unfairly charged for services.
In response, Consumer Reports sent letters to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion calling on them to ensure credit reports are accurate and to make it easier for consumers to obtain credit reports and scores securely at any time for free. It also has launched a petition to the three major credit bureaus urging them to take these steps.
“Mistakes in credit reports are more than just a frustrating hassle for consumers,” said Syed Ejaz, policy analyst for Consumer Reports. “Credit report errors can lower your credit score and lead to higher interest rates on loans or even prevent you from getting a job or an apartment.”
Ejaz said it’s time to hold the credit bureaus accountable for making sure credit reports are fair and accurate and to give consumers free access to their reports and scores at all times.
“No one should ever have to pay to access their own credit information,” he said.
Complaints about credit reporting errors are among the most frequent submissions to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and have more than doubled since 2019.
Credit report errors can include accounts or loans that have been paid off but appear unpaid, individual loans listed more than once, or debts that are incorrectly reported in collections.
Misspelled names, wrong addresses, or incorrect birth dates in a credit report can also cause problems for consumers.
Other mistakes can be serious such as “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.
Nearly 6,000 volunteers signed up to participate in the Credit Checkup project early this year. An analysis of the survey responses found that:
- 34 percent of consumers reported finding at least one mistake in their credit reports.
- 29 percent of consumers found personal information errors in their credit reports such as a wrong name or address, with more than half of those errors being incorrect addresses.
- 11 percent of consumers found account information errors, with the most common being accounts appearing in their credit reports that they didn’t recognize.
- 15 percent of consumers who reported having accounts in forbearance found that one or more of these accounts weren’t being reported as “current” as required under the CARES Act.
- 10 percent of consumers found accessing their credit reports “difficult” or “very difficult.” Many reported being locked out of their credit reports because of identity verification questions that they couldn’t answer.
- Some consumers reported being charged by credit bureaus to access their credit reports and being signed up for paid services they didn’t know about.
Credit report mistakes are often caused by how consumer data is managed by lenders, banks, debt collectors, and other data furnishers and can be caused by software errors, poor data management procedures, and failure to comply with the standards laid out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Ejaz said.
Mistakes made by furnishers affect the data held by the credit bureaus and any later decisions based on the credit reports they hold.
Consumers who find errors in their credit reports need file a dispute with the credit bureaus but they can have a difficult time getting mistakes corrected, he said.
Consumer Reports is calling on the credit bureaus and policymakers to adopt reforms to address the issues discovered by the Credit Checkup project:
- Strengthen and enforce accuracy requirements for credit reports.
- Provide consumers control over their own credit information.
- Redesign the identity verification system used by Equifax, Experian, and Transunion so that consumers aren’t locked out of their reports due to bad or very old information being used to verify identities.
- Rein in the role of credit reports in consumers’ lives.