By Maureen Mahoney, Consumers Union
Consumers know that it’s important to have good credit reports and scores. However, some companies have taken advantage of these concerns and have marketed costly and sometimes worthless scores to consumers.
This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) cracked down on Equifax and TransUnion, two of the “big three” credit bureaus, for allegedly misleading customers about credit scores. According to the CFPB, consumers were sold “educational scores” that lenders don’t typically use – even though the companies suggested otherwise in their marketing materials. Second, the CFPB said that the companies’ marketing materials led consumers to believe they were getting a free or $1 score, when they were actually signing up for a credit monitoring program for a monthly fee.
The CFPB ordered the companies to pay $17.6 in restitution to customers, and $5.5 million in fines to the Bureau. TransUnion and Equifax will also have to change their practices moving forward, to ensure that the value and cost of the scores is clear to consumers.
Having a good credit score is crucial in today’s financial marketplace. Mortgage lenders, auto lenders, private student lenders, credit card companies, and others often use them when deciding whether to extend you a loan – and in setting your interest rates. A bad credit score could even mean that you get turned down for credit, or pay hundreds or even thousands more in interest. These scores may even be used for non-credit reasons, such as by potential landlords. Still others, including potential employers, use credit reports when making decisions about consumers.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get free and accurate credit scores. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different credit scores, and consumers don’t always know whether they are receiving the same one that a lender actually uses. One promising development is the FICO Open Access program, in which participating banks and lenders regularly provide consumers with the actual score used in managing the account.
Consumers have better access to their credit reports (credit scores are calculated from information included in your credit report). You’re guaranteed free credit reports at annualcreditreport.com. At that site, consumers can access a free credit report once every twelve months from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Consumer Reports recommends that you stagger your requests so that you can access a different report every four months. Click here for more advice on checking your credit report.
The CFPB’s action is just the latest example of the consumer watchdog’s good work on behalf of consumers. They have one mission: to make sure that you are being treated fairly in the financial marketplace. Unfortunately, many in Congress want to weaken the CFPB so that it can’t do its job properly. We need you to help protect it. Click here to sign our petition to save the CFPB!