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New CFPB study highlights need for more inclusive credit data

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On June 7, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a new study that found that the ways “credit invisible” consumers establish credit history can differ greatly based on their economic background. The CFPB estimated in its May 2015 study “Data Point: Credit Invisibles” that more than 45 million American consumers are credit invisible, meaning they either have a thin credit file that cannot be scored or no credit history at all.

The new study reviewed de-identified credit records on more than one million consumers who became credit visible. It found that consumers in lower-income areas are 240 percent more likely to become credit visible due to negative information, such as a debt in collection. The CFPB noted consumers in higher-income areas become credit visible in a more positive way, with 30 percent more likely to become credit visible by using a credit card and 100 percent more likely to become credit visible by being added as a co-borrower or authorized user on someone else’s account. The study also found that the percentage of consumers transitioning to credit visibility due to student loans more than doubled in the last 10 years.

CFPB’s research highlights the need for alternative credit data

The new study demonstrates the importance of moving forward with inclusion of new sources of high-quality financial data — like on-time payment data from rent, utility and telecommunications providers — into a consumer’s credit file.

Experian recently outlined our beliefs on the issue in comments responding to the CFPB’s Request for Information on Alternative Data.

As a brand, we have a long history of using alternative credit data to help lenders make better lending decisions. Extensive research has shown that there is an immense opportunity to facilitate greater access to fair and affordable credit for underserved consumers through the inclusion of on-time telecommunications, utility and rental data in credit files. While these consumers may not have a traditional credit history, many make on-time payments for telephone, rent, cable, power or mobile services. However, this data is not typically being used to enhance traditional credit files held by the nationwide consumer reporting agencies, nor is it being used in most third-party or custom credit scoring models.

Further, new advances in financial technology and data analytics through account aggregation platforms are also integral to the credit granting process and can be applied in a manner to broaden access to credit. Experian is currently using account aggregation software to obtain consumer financial account information for authentication and income verification to speed credit decisions, but we are looking to expand this technology to increase the collection and utilization of alternative data for improving credit decisions by lenders.

Policymakers should act to help credit invisible consumers

While Experian continues to work with telecommunications and utility companies to facilitate the furnishing of on-time credit data to the nationwide consumer reporting agencies, regulatory barriers continue to exist that deter utility and telecommunications companies from furnishing on-time payment data to credit bureaus. To help address this issue, Congress is currently considering bipartisan legislation (H.R. 435, The Credit Access and Inclusion Act of 2017) that would amend the FCRA to clarify that utility and telecommunication companies can report positive credit data, such as on-time payments, to the nation’ s credit reporting bureaus. The legislation has bipartisan support in Congress and Experian encourages lawmakers to move forward with this important initiative that could benefit tens of millions of American consumers.

In addition, Experian believes policymakers should more clearly define the term alternative data. In public policy debates, the term “alternative data” is a broad term, often lumping data sources that can or have been proven to meet regulatory standards for accuracy and fairness required by both the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act with data sources that cannot or have not been proven to meet these standards. In our comment letter, Experian encourages policymakers to clearly differentiate between different types of alternative data and focus the consumer and commercial credit industry on public policy recommendations that will increase the use of those sources of data that have or can be shown to meet legal and societal standards for accuracy, validity, predictability and fairness.