2nd Chance Consumer Advocates

The Truth About the Credit Bureaus

The Truth About the Credit Bureaus

For starters, let's put aside the idea that the credit bureaus exist to ensure the safe keeping of your private financial data. The credit bureaus are not official government agencies and they do not create your credit reports for your benefit. They are not in the business of making sure your credit reports are accurate and they do not willingly provide you with a yearly copy of your credit reports.

What the credit bureaus are is something much different from what most people believe. Put simply, the credit bureaus are massive, for profit corporations who make money by selling your information. They sell it to creditors, employers, insurance companies, marketers, and even back to you.

The big three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, all trace their ancestry to small, local investigative companies. These early credit bureaus would collect every bit of seemingly relevant information they could about a person including employment history, marital status, age, race, religion, testimonials, and any other information they could get their hands on. They would then provide this information to creditors who used it to determine whether or not a person was worthy of a loan and how much interest they would be required to pay.
The FCRA was passed to protect you from the credit bureaus.
Over time, the credit bureaus grew and merged until the credit reporting system moved from one with many local credit bureaus to the current system of three major nationwide credit bureaus. As this happened, the large credit bureaus became so powerful that it became necessary for them to be regulated. This resulted in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) being passed to protect you from the growing power of the credit bureaus.

Credit scores had become increasingly important and it was the credit bureaus that had full control over the information used to create these scores. The problem was that the credit bureaus, as is the case today, are primarily motivated to collect your information and then sell it off. This meant that even though the credit bureaus were the definitive source for your credit information, they had no motivation to ensure its completeness or accuracy. They merely took the information they were provided, added it to your credit reports, and sold it off.

The FCRA was passed to add accountability to the credit reporting process. The credit bureaus were no longer able to collect whatever they wanted and to not tell you what was on your credit reports. As a result of the FCRA, you have a right to a free yearly copy of your credit reports (see www.annualcreditreport.com) and you have the right to dispute the accuracy of the items in your credit reports. While this does not mean the credit bureaus now make sure your reports are accurate, it does give you recourse when the credit bureaus unfairly report your credit history.

Unfortunately, however, the FCRA did not eradicate all the problems of the credit reporting system. The credit bureaus are still enormous corporations with enormous power. They are also still primarily motivated by the money they make by selling your credit information. Providing you with credit reports and investigating credit disputes is something they are forced to do and not something they were willing to do on their own. As such, the credit bureaus do what they can to avoid these practices.

Specifically as it relates to credit repair, the credit bureaus have developed a full arsenal of tactics to keep from investigating disputes. These tactics range from general propaganda, to strong-arm tactics, to methods of questionable legality.

How many times have you heard that credit repair is impossible, the only way to improve your credit is to wait seven years, and any company who offers to repair you credit is a scam? It is surprising so many people believe some or all of these statements when not a single one is true. This misinformation is the best friend of the credit bureaus as it dissuades so many people from even attempting to dispute their credit. No wonder the credit bureaus are so quick to promote this flawed perception.

Knowing the history and the motivations behind the credit bureaus is your tool to understanding the nature of the credit reporting system. When you know the true persona of the credit bureaus, you can then see why you are granted access to your credit reports, why you have the right to repair your credit, and why it can be beneficial to have a credit repair expert working on your side.

What factors affect your credit score?
There are five factors which are used in credit scoring calculations that determine your overall credit score.

Previous Credit Performance (Payment History) 35% A lender wants to know what your payment history is like. Have you paid everything on time, are you late on anything now, and so on. Your payment history is just one piece of information used in calculating your score, although it can be the very most important.

Current Level of Indebtedness (Amount Owed) 30% How much is too much? Can the borrower pay me and still afford to pay his other bills? Not necessarily. Having available credit can actually help your ratio of debt to available credit. These are the types of questions that most borrowers want to know and the answers are almost as important as your previous credit history.

Amount of Time Credit Has Been In Use (Length of Credit) 15% Generally speaking, the longer the credit history the better your score. However, this factor only makes up 15% of your total score so even young people, students or others with short histories can still score high overall as long as the other factors show good. If you are new to credit then there is little you can do to improve this part of your score. Open an account and be patient.

Pursuit of New Credit (10%) Credit is much more popular today. Just look at the number of credit card offers you get via the Internet and in the mail. Consumers can now shop for credit and find the best terms to meet their needs. Each time someone runs a credit check on you, it creates an inquiry.

Fair Isaac has changed some of its calculations to account for these new trends. Specifically, they treat a group of inquiries - which probably represents a search for the best rate on a single loan - as though it was a single inquiry (note: this only applies to auto or mortgage loan inquiries.) For example, auto loan inquires that are within 14 days of each other only count as one inquiry.

Types of Credit Experience (10%) A healthy mix of different types of credit, installment loans, retail accounts, credit cards, and mortgage. This score is not normally a key factor in determining your score but it can help a close score. It's not a good idea to try and open different types of accounts just to try and make this factor better. It will likely reduce your score in other areas. You should never open accounts you don't intend to use anyway.

What type of accounts you have, and how many, can make a big difference. The optimal ratio of installment versus revolving accounts depends on your profile and differs from person to person. One factor that seems to have significant influence is your percent of open installment loans.

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