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Consumers’ No. 1 complaint: Errors on their credit reports   

If you are upset about something on your credit report, you’re not alone.
Of all the complaints posted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website in 2016, the highest percentage were complaints about credit reporting — more than 43,000, or about 23% of the total 186,000 complaints.
That’s according to an analysis of the complaints by the personal finance company LendEdu.
Mortgages and debt collection were the next most complained-about topics, each taking about 21% of the complaints for the year.
The CFPB releases an annual roundup of the most complained-about topics and most recently released data about 2015 complaints (it hasn’t released an analysis 2016 data to the public yet, but LendEdu did its study based on the CFPB’s publicly available database of complaints). But the CFPB has found relatively consistent numbers about how many consumers complain about their credit reports. 

The most common complaints about the credit reports were that it contained incorrect information (nearly 74% of complaints said this), followed by complaints about the credit reporting company’s investigation (such as that it took too long or they received inadequate help on the phone), inability to get a credit report or score, improper use of their credit reports or complaints about credit monitoring or identity protection.

Why were credit reports the most complained-about topic?

Although mortgages, debt collection, payday loans and other consumer products may have their own issues, credit reports encompass many aspects of consumers’ financial lives (including loans and debt), which may be one reason they received the most complaints in LendEdu’s study, said the company’s co-founder and Chief Executive Nate Matherson.

The CFPB doesn’t collect data about how often consumers’ complaints about their reports containing incorrect information are actually true.

The Federal Trade Commission has studied this problem; in 2012, the commission found that one in five consumers had an error that was subsequently corrected by a credit reporting agency after it was disputed. When the FTC followed up with 121 consumers it had worked with in 2012 who still had errors on their reports, 84 said in 2015 that they still believed at least some of the information they disputed remained incorrect.

Although some consumers may in fact have errors on their credit reports, some make complaints when they don’t understand aspects of their report that aren’t actually incorrect, said Liz Weston, the author of “Your Credit Score: How to Improve the 3-Digit Number That Shapes Your Financial Future,” who is now a columnist for the personal finance company NerdWallet.

“The CFPB database is not a perfect reporting tool and measurement of consumer complaints as it may fail to distinguish between bona fide consumer complaints [and] innocuous disputes,” said Eric J. Ellman, the interim president and chief executive of the Consumer Data Industry Association, in a statement.

“It is important to note that consumers who are reviewing their credit reports for the first time might question an item they don’t recognize or understand and then lodge a complaint on the portal.”

That said, people really do have trouble negotiating with the credit bureaus (the three major ones are Equifax EFX, +0.21%  , TransUnion TRU, +0.38%   and Experian EXPN, +1.11%  ; Equifax and TransUnion were fined by the CFPB this month after the bureau said they misled consumers about their credit scores) when they have problems with their reports, Weston said, which has created a “cat and mouse” relationship with credit bureaus for years. (For example, she said, consumers may dispute an item on their credit report with a credit bureau, but creditors might insist to the bureaus that the item in question is correct.)

“The CDIA and credit reporting agencies are continuously looking for new ways to better serve consumers through technology investments and improvements to systems and processes,” Ellman said.

Consumers should learn as much as possible about their credit scores, Weston said, most importantly knowing that it’s a three-digit number that presents a snapshot of their financial lives, there are many types of credit scores (not just one, which is a common misunderstanding) and that they change all the time based on consumer behavior, she said.

If consumers really do have a problem with their reports, the CFPB recommends contacting both the credit-reporting company that provided the credit report and any other company that may have distributed information about one’s score (there are many third-party websites, such as Credit Karma or some credit-card companies, for example, that provide credit scores) to track down a potential error. That complaint should include what information consumers think is wrong, why they think it’s wrong and copies of any documents that can back up that claim.

The CFPB can also submit credit reporting complaints on behalf of consumers and will give consumers a tracking number for their case.
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