Consumers can expect to see major changes in the way that the credit reporting agencies - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian - handle much of the information on their credit reports and the consumer dispute process in the coming months and years. In fact these changes, brought about as part of a settlement agreement released on March 9, 2015, are so sweeping that they have the potential to lead to higher credit scores for millions of US consumers.
The settlement came about after New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his office began investigating the practices of the 3 credit reporting agencies in 2012. While the neither Equifax, TransUnion, nor Experian were actually found to have violated any laws, the 3 credit reporting giants have agreed to a settlement which will implement a very significant overhaul affecting many different credit reporting and consumer dispute policies.
Additionally, the changes will not merely apply to residents of the state of New York but rather will be implemented for consumers nationwide. Without question the settlement marks the most significant change in credit reporting since the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in 2003. In fact, credit reporting changes of the magnitude included in the settlement agreement generally only come about when mandated by federal law.
The lengthy settlement agreement (a whopping 41 pages long of not-so-light reading) details a massive amount of information regarding the credit reporting practices changes to come. Here are some of the most important highlights.
· The changes detailed in the agreement will not take place overnight; however, they will be implemented nationwide over the next 6 to 39 months (3.25 years).
· According to the agreement unpaid medical collections will not be permitted to be added to a consumer's credit reports for a period of 180 days (approximately 6 months). The change is designed to prevent consumers from having unnecessary derogatory collection accounts added to their credit reports in cases where a medical insurance company is simply dragging its feet to pay a bill - a common occurrence.
· When a medical collection is paid by an insurance company it must be removed from a consumer's credit reports immediately, regardless of how long it has been there. Previously paid medical collections were permitted to remain on a consumer's credit reports, leading to credit score damage, for 7 years from the date of default on the original account.
More Free Credit Reports for Consumers with Disputes
· Each credit bureau has also agreed to provide an additional free credit report to consumers who file a dispute using an AnnualCreditReport.com credit report. Previously, as part of 2003's FACTA, consumers were only entitled to only one from credit report every 12 months via the same website.
Changes to the Dispute Process
· Perhaps the biggest changes to come about as a result of the settlement are among those involved with the consumer dispute process.
¨ Refusing to Process Disputes - The credit bureaus are no longer permitted to refuse to accept a dispute due to the fact that a consumer has not receive a credit report recently nor for the failure of a consumer to include a credit report identification number with his/her dispute.
¨ Deceased Indicator Changes - When a credit bureau receives a dispute from a consumer than an account on his/her credit report is inaccurately reporting that the consumer is deceased (and the credit bureau's investigation has in fact revealed that the consumer's dispute has merit) the credit bureau must share the information regarding the incorrect "deceased indicator" with the other 2 credit bureaus so that they may remove the indicator as well. (These inaccurate deceased indicators often show up on a consumer's credit reports when they hold a joint account with someone who has passed away.)
¨ Review of Supporting Dispute Documentation Submitted by Consumers - Previously if a consumer filed a dispute with documented proof of a credit reporting inaccuracy the credit bureau would still rely upon the data furnisher (i.e. creditor or collection agency) to review the dispute and determine whether to verify or delete the account. Under the new agreement when a consumer includes documentation to support a dispute and the data furnisher verifies the account as accurate anyway the credit bureau will be required to assign an agent to perform its own investigation, independent of the data furnisher. If the credit bureau agent determines that the consumer's dispute is indeed valid then the agent will have the authority to modify or delete the disputed account.
¨ Escalated Dispute Handling - The credit bureaus will be required to process disputes occurring as a result of fraud, identity theft, and mixed credit files (where the files of 2 consumers are merged into 1) in an escalated manner. Escalated disputes will be handled by specialized groups with experience in these complex dispute situations.
Michelle Black is leading credit expert with over 13 years of experience, the credit blogger at HOPE4USA.com, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker. She is an expert on credit reporting and scoring, budgeting, and identity theft.