Consumers filed complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in record numbers in 2020, according to a report released Monday by the US Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. Credit reporting issues were cited in 282,000, or 63%, of complaints. The majority noted “incorrect information” on credit reports or “the information belongs to someone else,” according to the report.
Not only did complaints about credit report errors top the list of consumer grievances, but the three major credit bureaus – Experian TransUnion and Equifax – were the top three companies complained about.
MISTAKES CAN ENDANGER YOUR SCORE
Accuracy is important because credit report errors can suggest identity theft or fraudulent activity on your accounts. And because credit report data provides the raw material for credit scores, mistakes can lower your score.
Some of the volume of complaints may be an unintended consequence of payment accommodations mandated by the 2020 Coronavirus Relief Bill and temporary concessions offered by lenders and credit card issuers.
But credit report errors were common even before the pandemic, says Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the advocacy group’s federal consumer program and author of the report. Payment accommodations may have caused more people to check their credit reports and find these errors, he says.
Mierzwinski recommends that “any consumer with a credit account” check their credit report. People who have common names may be particularly at risk of confusion, he says.
HOW TO GET YOUR FREE CREDIT REPORTS
You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus using AnnualCreditReport.com. You will be asked to provide personal identification information – your name, social security number, date of birth and address.
You will also be asked security questions to verify your identity. Some of them can be difficult. If you are unable to answer correctly, call 877-322-8228 to request your credit reports by mail.
You can also download and send a request form to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
HOW TO READ YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
Your reports from all three offices will not be exactly the same. Not all creditors report to all three, and offices present the information in different formats. But you can use a similar procedure to read your credit reports.
First, verify your credentials. Mistakes such as misspellings from a previous employer aren’t important, but something like an address you’ve never lived at could suggest identity theft.
Next, verify the account information. Every credit account you have (and some that are closed) should be listed and include:
— Name of the creditor, account number and date of opening.
— Type of account (credit card, loan, etc.).
– Account status and if you are up to date on payments. Accounts that were in good standing when the pandemic-related payment accommodations began should continue to be reported in good standing until the accommodation ends.
— Whether you are a joint owner, primary user or authorized user.
— Credit limit and/or original loan amount.
— There may be negative information, such as collection accounts or bankruptcy records. Make sure you recognize it and that it is accurate.
HOW TO CONTEST ERRORS
The Fair Credit Reporting Act holds both the creditor reporting to the credit bureaus and the credit bureaus responsible for ensuring that the information in your credit reports is accurate.
If you spot an error in one credit file, check it in the other two. Dispute the error with each office reporting it. You can dispute by mail, telephone or online – the credit report will contain information on how to file your dispute. The credit bureaus should investigate and notify you of the outcome.
You can also contact the company providing the incorrect information. He should inform the bureaus of the dispute and, if he finds that the information is incorrect or incomplete, ask the credit bureaus to delete it.
If challenging does not resolve the issue, Mierzwinski recommends filing a complaint with the CFPB and requesting an investigation. This can put additional pressure to correct misinformation, he says.
CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio said one of his goals was to “ensure that consumers who bring complaints to us get the response and relief they deserve”.
This article originally appeared on the personal finance website NerdWallet. Bev O’Shea is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @BeverlyOShea.
US PIRG: Consumers at Risk https://uspirgedfund.org/reports/usf/consumers-peril
NerdWallet: how to get your annual credit reports from major credit bureaus http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-credit-reports
AnnualCreditReport.com Request Form https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0093-annual-report-request-form.pdf
NerdWallet: How to Read a Credit Report http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-report-reading
NerdWallet: How to Dispute Credit Report Errors http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-report-errors