In a recent blog entry I wrote, “Significant legislation has been enacted to protect you from the impact of the credit bureau’s inaccuracies. The right that you have to receive copies of your three credit reports for free on an annual basis is not a friendly public service by the credit bureaus. The bureaus have been required to provide this service as one of the protective measures included in the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act. Your credit report can have a major impact on your financial life. Give your credit the attention that it deserves and review your reports regularly.”
A Reader Responds
A reader responded by asking, “I’ve read that the credit bureaus are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. Doesn’t this indicate a relationship with the government?” Below is my reply along with some additional thoughts on the subject.
The Credit Bureaus are Not Government Agencies
I replied that, “The relationship between the credit bureaus and the government is the same as the relationship that you have with the government. Because your actions are conscripted by law does not in anyway suggest that you are necessarily a law abiding citizen (although I’m sure that you are!). As many people live in a constant adversarial relationship with the government, so do many large businesses. The credit bureaus happen to be constantly at odds with the law. Given the potential impact that credit reporting errors can have on your financial life, I strongly suggest that you modify your opinion of the bureaus enough to be very cautious of the content of your credit report.”
Strictly For Profit
One of the unfortunate underlying assumptions that people, like the above reader, have in their attitude towards the credit bureaus is that the bureaus have some form of official status. This could not be farther from the truth. They are strictly for profit businesses. Experian and Equifax are publicly traded companies and list their revenues in the billions of dollars. Trans Union is a privately held company with revenues estimated also in the billions. The three credit bureaus have maintained a consistently adversarial relationship with the government and consumers throughout their histories.
An Adversarial Relationship
An adversarial relationship with the public is not unusual for large businesses. All activities are chosen for the purpose of producing profits. The history of lawsuits brought against the bureaus over time paint a clear picture. The office of the Attorney General of Florida is currently pursuing action against Experian relating to misleading claims, deceptive advertising, a misleading domain name (freecreditreport.com), and failure to honor cancellations to their credit monitoring service offered through this so-called free credit report website.
A History of Conflict
The type of behavior described by the Office of the Attorney General of Florida is consistent with countless charges against the three bureaus. In the 1970s Equifax was charged with rewarding its employees for collecting negative information on consumers. This charge, which resulted in a consent decree, provides an interesting hint about the corporate culture.
Experian Gets an “F”
In 2006 a leading consumer advocate website rated the customer service offered by the three bureaus. The ratings were dismal including a grade of “F” given to Experian, who was sited for not even providing customers with a customer service telephone number. Credit repair is not on the priority list at the credit bureaus!
Nothing Has Changed
The above mentioned consumer advocate site has a current post that says, “With the 2003 amendments to the FCRA, and the introduction of the FACT Act, millions of consumers will see the quality of their credit reports degrade even further. FACT stands for Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, but in reality it is just our government trying to appease millions of consumer who complain about the current credit reporting industry. But they are only appeasing us in name only…”
The Forces at Work
We have been assisting our customers with credit repair since 1989 and as such have dealt with the three bureaus on a consistent basis. There are two major forces at work that shape the behavior of the credit bureaus. The first major force is the need to maximize and protect profits which may result in decisions about operating policy that are not in the best interest of the public. The second force that conspires with the profit motive is the sheer bulk of data that the credit bureaus are trying to manage and maintain. The result has been widespread and serious errors on consumer reports combined with a horrible corporate bureaucratic resistance to fixing the problem. So check your credit reports regularly.