A few days ago this page urged Congress to pass legislation that would let consumers see a free copy each year of the report on their credit rating.
We did so because such reports are often riddled with errors and it's unfair to charge consumers extra for the privilege of correcting misinformation that can deprive them of credit.The need for such legislation became even clearer this week with the release of a study by Consumers Union showing the extent of such errors. Among the findings:
- Nearly half of the credit reports contained inaccurate information. Many had more than one inaccuracy.
- Nineteen percent contained a major inaccuracy, one that could adversely affect a consumer's eligibility for credit.
- Twenty-seven percent of the credit reports had been seen by persons not authorized by the consumer to see the report.
On top of all that, many consumers find their credit reports difficult to read and understand.
What's more, the cost of obtaining a copy of one's credit report, often as high as $20, can be prohibitive for many consumers, particularly if reports are on file at all three of the major credit rating agencies.
Keeping those difficulties in mind, here's how consumers wanting to check on their credit ratings can go about it:
1. Check your credit report on a routine basis with the three major credit bureaus, CBI-Equifax, Trans Union and TRW Credit Data. Each company has local offices in most major cities, listed in the white pages of the phone book. If you can't find any of the companies listed, Associated Credit Bureaus recommends telephoning a local department store or bank and asking what credit bureaus serve your community.
If you have been turned down for credit, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you ask for it within 30 days. If you haven't been turned down, the credit companies will charge a fee for sending you a copy of your report, usually between $5 and $20.
2. Find out if your state sets a ceiling on how much credit bureaus may charge for a copy of your report.
3. If you find an error, follow the dispute resolution process outlined in the report. The process can be time-consuming.
4. Check your credit report a few months after the correction to make sure the inaccuracy has been removed.
5. If the dispute is not resolved in your favor, you have the right to add a statement to your file challenging the information.
One final point: Next June 11 the House Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs will conduct a hearing on legislation to tighten credit reporting. Everyone, including merchants as well as consumers, loses when the system is as badly flawed as it is now. Congress won't have completed its job until it makes credit reports not only more accurate but also easier for ordinary consumers to understand.