CFPB Takes On How 'Eye-Opening' Rate of Credit Errors Is Handled

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The odds of experiencing an error on your credit report are higher than you might think -- so much so, that Uncle Sam has apparently had enough.

A February study from the Federal Trade Commission says that 20% of Americans have errors on at least one of their three credit reports (from Experian, Transunion and Equifax ( EFX)) and that 5% had mistakes that "could led to them paying more for products such as auto loans and insurance."

"These are eye-opening numbers for American consumers," said Howard Shelanski, director of the FTC's Bureau of Economics. "The results of this study make it clear that consumers should check their credit reports regularly. If they don't, they are potentially putting their pocketbooks at risk."

But it's not just the consumer's responsibility. Companies that supply consumer financial data to credit reporting companies have skin in the game, and last week the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put a spotlight on credit reporting practices to start holding them accountable for their accuracy and thoroughness.

Companies that provide consumer financial data to credit reporting agencies are called "furnishers." One of their chief responsibilities is to investigate consumer complaints on credit reports, using data submitted by consumers and provided by credit reporting agencies.

The CFPB, however, is not entirely happy with the way furnishers and credit agencies interact on consumer complaints. One primary complaint: There is no official mechanism for credit reporting agencies to send data provided to them by customers to furnishers during a dispute.

"Credit reports play a critical role in the lives of consumers," CFPB Director Richard Cordray says. "Given the importance of these reports, consumers need to know that their documents are being reviewed when they dispute what they believe is a mistake on a report."

The CFPB wants credit reporting firms to start forwarding data given to them by consumers through an electronic document sharing program they already use, called e-Oscar.

With CFPB oversight, the system has been upgraded so TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax can send supporting documents from consumers involved in a credit report dispute to furnishers.

The federal agency has also formalized the "legal" role and responsibilities of furnishers in regard to consumer credit report complaints:
  • Getting information and investigating disputes: When a consumer files a dispute about a credit report item, furnishers need to be able to get information about it and must investigate the consumer's concerns.
  • Providing investigation results: Furnishers must report the results of the investigation to the consumer reporting company that sent the dispute originally.
  • Correcting inaccurate information: Furnishers are required to report the results of the investigation to nationwide consumer reporting companies if those companies may have received inaccurate or incomplete credit information. Furnishers also have to modify, delete or permanently block disputed information that is incomplete, inaccurate or cannot be verified.

The heat is on furnishers to upgrade their abilities to investigate consumer disputes and on credit reporting firms to make sure furnishers get the right information from consumers issuing complaints against credit reporting firms.

If furnishers don't comply, the CFPB, under the rules and regulations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, promises to take "supervisory and enforcement actions" against them, with full restitution on the table for consumers.

That should light a fire under furnishers and credit reporting agencies to up their game on consumer credit disputes -- or face the wrath of Uncle Sam.

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