The credit reports on file for millions of Americans often contain errors that could cost consumers a good credit rating, approval for housing or even a job, a study concluded.

The study conducted by Consumers Union showed 48 percent of reports it reviewed from the country's three major credit reporting firms contained at least one inaccuracy and 19 percent contained a "major" error that could adversely affect a consumer's eligibility for credit."A credit report can make or break your application for credit, housing, insurance and even a job," Michelle Meier, counsel for the consumer watchdog group, said Monday.

One participant was denied credit during the course of the study based on inaccurate information that she was delinquent in paying a $19 balance on a department store credit card. In fact, Meier said, the participant had paid off the account and had returned the card to the store five years earlier.

Another participant discovered information about her mother's credit history erroneously on her own credit report, including a large loan dating to when the daughter was only 11 years old.

Meier said the CU study also revealed a major concern about the confidentiality of some 400 million credit reports currently on file for nearly 90 pecent of Americans.

"We found that a full 27 percent of the participants (in the study) . . . indicated that third parties had gotten access to their reports without their permission," Meier said, adding another 27 percent reported it was "difficult to tell" by reading the reports if others had been given access.