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Congress Should Take Action to Improve Financial Education In Our Country

October 6, 2014 by Tony Hadley

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How can I improve my credit score?

That’s a question thousands of consumers ask Experian every day. This question is asked even more frequently now that lenders are sending an estimated 120 million credit-score disclosures each year to consumers when they are denied credit or are offered terms that are less favorable than those offered to others. These score disclosures provide consumers with basic information about the score used in a transaction and direct them to the national credit bureaus if they have any questions.

However, when consumers ask Experian how they can improve their credit standing, it’s difficult to respond in an easy and consumer-friendly way. The difficulty arises because, although we want to help, the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) puts substantial roadblocks between credit bureaus and consumers.

What is CROA?
CROA was enacted in 1996 with the goal of stamping out the deceptive practices of credit clinics, or “credit doctors.” These clinics scam consumers by promising, often for exorbitant fees, to help improve their credit by, among other things, removing negative but accurate information from their credit file.

Today, CROA remains an essential piece of consumer-protection legislation. It plays an important role in shielding consumers from the unfair and deceptive practices of unscrupulous credit clinics, which is why we supported the law’s passage in the first place.

However, the law has been applied by courts in ways that Congress never intended. As it currently stands, court decisions call into question the ability of nationwide credit bureaus — the very entities that are best positioned to provide information about credit scores and credit reports or to educate consumers as to how to improve them — to help consumers understand and improve their credit in a manner that is timely or practical.

For example, consumers who reach out to Experian for specific advice about their personal credit report and how to improve their credit score must wait at least three business days from when they sign up to receive the information. The consumer cannot waive this waiting period no matter what. In today’s connected world, providing legitimate services three days after the consumer asks for help just doesn’t work. It’s time for Congress to update CROA to reflect current technology and market realities.

CROA’s Misapplication Has Stifled Innovation in Credit Education
This misapplication of CROA chills innovation and the delivery of effective consumer-education products and services. Amending CROA to make clear that credit bureaus are able to deliver new, timely and effective financial literacy tools would positively impact on the lives of individual consumers.

As our nation rebuilds its economic engine after the recent recession, a large portion of the population continues to be impacted by the housing and financial crisis. It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of Americans have a low credit score, which either leads to credit denial or a higher interest rate.

According to Experian’s research, 16 million consumers potentially could move beyond a subprime credit score and another 16 million consumers potentially could move into a prime credit score by taking legitimate steps that increase their VantageScore® credit score by 30 points. That’s 32 million consumers who potentially could benefit from the recovery of their credit score by using innovative education tools such as those that Experian would like to bring to the market.

Credit-education tools can also help chip away at the more than 60 million consumers in our country that are considered “credit invisibles.” These individuals either have thin or no credit file, making it impossible for them to be scored.

Legitimate credit-education tools can help consumers build credit profiles by understanding the responsible actions they can take to establish a financial identity and build a credit history.

Credit education is not important just for individual consumers. It also is vital to small businesses because most small-business owners rely on their own personal credit standing to access capital to grow their business or hire new employees.

How Can Congress Help Improve Financial Education?
For these reasons, Experian® is encouraging Congress to pass H.R. 5446, the Facilitating Access to Credit Act of 2014. The bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, would exempt reputable nationwide Consumer Financial Protection Bureau–supervised credit bureaus, such as Experian, from CROA’s requirements. The legislation also would ensure that the statute’s critical consumer protections still could be enforced against unscrupulous credit clinics.

Recognizing the positive impact of CROA reform on financial literacy in the communities that they represent, several national organizations have signed on to this important effort. Policy resolutions supporting reform of CROA have been adopted by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, the National Bankers Association and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Written by: Tony Hadley, Senior Vice President, Government and Regulatory Affairs at Experian

VantageScore® is a registered trademark of VantageScore Solutions, LLC.

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