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Consumer advisory: Fact-check your specialty consumer report


You probably already know that when you apply for a loan, many lenders will get information about your credit history from one of the big three consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). This information can determine whether you are eligible for a loan and how much the loan will cost.

But did you know that there are other consumer reporting agencies that also collect and sell your personal data? Some of these companies, called specialty consumer reporting agencies, compile and sell reports with all kinds of personal data including, but not limited to, the history of your employment, rental, banking, lending, insurance, and criminal background. This includes other public record data such as tax liens, civil suits and bankruptcy data.

We’ve got a list of consumer reporting agencies, so you can fact-check them to ensure your personal report data is accurate and complete.

Why you should know what’s in your reports

If you’re applying for a job, planning to rent an apartment, or purchasing property or health insurance, you might want to check and see if one of these specialty consumer reporting agencies has a file with your information. It may also be useful if you’re applying for a checking account, or had problems with utility bills. For example, if you are applying for a lease, one of your “tenant screening” specialty reports might be reviewed by the landlord. Keep in mind that not every consumer reporting agency will have information on every consumer.

Check reports in advance

When it comes to your personal data, all consumer reporting agencies are required to follow reasonable procedures to ensure that the information in your report is accurate, but errors can happen. You should fact-check your report in advance, allowing sufficient time for companies to investigate and fix errors. Once you notify a consumer reporting agency of a potential error on your report, the agency generally has thirty days to investigate and fix the errors on your report. After completing the investigation, they generally have five business days to notify you of its results.

The last thing you want is an unpleasant surprise that may disqualify you from a loan, job or a new lease. You’re in the best position to know whether the information in your personal reports is accurate and complete.

How to request and dispute a report

Here’s a list of consumer reporting agencies, complete with the contact information, (including the phone numbers and websites), for nearly fifty companies. By law, consumer reporting agencies must provide you a copy of your report upon request. Most of the companies in this list provide reports for free once every twelve months (as indicated on the list) though others may charge you a small fee. If you spot any errors, you have the right to dispute the report’s content with the consumer reporting agency and the company that provided the data. The companies are required to investigate your dispute for free.

Check out Ask CFPB for more information about specialty consumer reporting agencies. You can also download a printer-friendly version of this information to share with friends or clients. If you have a problem with credit reporting or any other financial product, you can submit a complaint to us online.

Millions of consumers will now have access to credit scores and reports through nonprofit counselors


Update as of June 2015: All three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) will now allow nonprofit counselors to share credits reports, as well as the scores, with the consumer.

Millions of consumers will now be able to receive the credit scores and credit reports that nonprofit credit counselors purchase on their behalf.

Nonprofit organizations that offer credit counseling, housing counseling, and other financial counseling services buy credit reports and scores for the consumers they serve. These reports and scores help counselors engage in constructive conversations with their clients about steps the clients can take to improve their financial situation.

Until now, counseling organizations have generally been prohibited by their contracts with the credit reporting agencies from giving the consumer the credit report or score that they have purchased on that consumer’s behalf. For example, a nonprofit organization that purchases a credit report with a FICO credit score has typically signed a three-way agreement with one of the three large credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian) and FICO, agreeing not to provide the report or score to any entity, including the consumer.

This no-sharing policy is common in contracts signed by business users of credit reports and scores. But when applied to consumer counseling, it limits a client’s ability to review the credit history provided by the counselor on their own and may make the consumer more dependent on the counselor to take steps to manage or improve her credit standing. We’ve heard concerns about this issue from counselors and consumers across the country.

A policy change that will affect millions of consumers

FICO’s announcement today signals a change in this policy. FICO has reached new agreements with the three credit reporting agencies that will allow millions of consumers who receive nonprofit credit counseling, housing counseling, and other services to obtain a copy of the FICO score that these organizations have purchased. We’ve been working with industry to make progress on these issues and we are encouraged by this positive step. FICO has taken the additional step to create content to help these consumers understand the key factors that influence their credit scores.

A step in the right direction

These efforts build on our open credit score initiative, which is helping to increase consumers’ access to credit scores and credit reports and empower consumers to improve their financial lives. Last year, we launched this initiative by calling on more of the nation’s top credit card companies to make credit scores freely available to their customers. Today, more than a dozen major credit card issuers are providing credit scores directly and freely to consumers, and they are increasingly being joined by other types of consumer lenders as well.

As part of this ongoing effort, we brought counseling organizations’ concerns about restrictions on their clients’ access to credit information to the attention of the credit reporting companies and FICO and urged that these restrictions be removed. However, even with the policy change on FICO credit scores, individual contracts between the credit reporting agencies and counseling organizations still prohibited the organizations from sharing the credit reports with their clients. This restriction made it harder for counselors to do their job. And it kept the consumers they serve from benefiting fully from the credit information that the counseling service organizations have paid for.

We are encouraged that, as part of this ongoing effort to press forward on these issues, Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax have updated their policies. Nonprofit counselors that purchase credit reports on behalf of their consumer clients will now be able to share those reports, as well as the scores, with the consumer.

Ending restrictions on sharing credit scores and reports by consumer financial counseling organizations will empower consumers to take more control of managing their credit and help counselors to do their jobs more effectively.

Learn more about credit reports and credit scores on Ask CFPB. Also, remember that consumers can always obtain a free annual copy of their credit reports.

Consumer Advisory: 7 ways to keep medical debt in check


Debt collection is the top complaint we’ve received since September 2013. Out of all debt types, medical collections make up 52 percent of collection accounts on credit reports, far outpacing all other types of debt.

Medical collections are so widespread, that an estimated 43 million consumers with an account in collection have medical debt. We analyzed medical collections in our latest report, to explain why medical debt is affecting so many more credit reports than any other type of debt. You can read more about how medical debt hurts your credit report.

Here are steps you can take to keep medical debt in check:

1. Review medical bills carefully

If you don’t recognize the provider, check the date of service to see if you had a medical treatment on that day. For more complicated procedures, ask for an itemized bill from the provider in order to check how much you were charged for each service. Some providers who bill you directly may have been associated with a hospital where you were treated, so you may not have known you were receiving services from them at the time you were being treated.

2. Get documentation

Prepare an organized record of all bills. If you need to dispute a bill, send a written notice to the provider and include a copy of all relevant documents, such as records from doctors’ offices or credit card statements. Do not send original documents.

3. Check your health insurance policy and make sure your provider has your correct insurance info

You should know what your insurance covers, and what it doesn’t – but first your insurance information needs to be up-to-date and accurate! A small mix up can lead to big bills for expenses that your insurance should have covered.

4. Act quickly to resolve or dispute the medical bills that you receive

If you have verified you owe the bill, try to resolve it right away. Verify whether an insurer is paying for all or part of a bill. If you delay the bill and let it end up in collections, it can have a significant impact on your credit score. If you don’t owe the bill, act quickly to dispute it.

5. Negotiate your bill

Hospitals may negotiate the amount of the bill with you. The tab may be reduced if you pay the whole amount up front. You can also try asking for the rate that people who have insurance get. The hospital might also offer a plan that enables you to pay off the debt in installments at no interest. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

6. Get financial assistance or support

Many hospitals have financial assistance programs, which may be called “charity care,” if you are unable to pay your bill. Check the deadlines, which can vary.

7. Don’t put medical bills on your credit card, if you can’t pay it

If you can’t immediately pay off a high debt on your credit card bill, you will be charged high interest, and it will look like regular debt to other creditors. Instead, ask your medical provider for a payment plan with little or no interest.

Related information about debt collection

Check out Ask CFPB to learn more about your debt collection rights and to learn about medical credit cards.

If you’re dealing with debt in general, you can consider finding a reputable credit counseling agency.

Good credit – I want that!


Did you know that there are now dating websites where potential partners provide their credit score for you to check out? People know it’s important to have good credit. But, there’s still a lot of confusion about how to actually build and keep a good credit report.

First of all, what is a credit report?

In a nutshell, it’s a report that looks at some of your bill-paying history, your applications for credit, and public-record information about you like bankruptcies, liens, and foreclosures.

Credit-reporting companies (the big three are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) collect this information, organize it into reports, and sell the reports to businesses so they can make decisions about whether to lend to you, and at what rate. Businesses believe that how you’ve handled credit in the past predicts how you will handle credit in the future – and how risky it would be to take you on as a customer.

Based on your credit reports, you will be given a credit score by the credit-reporting companies. You don’t just have one credit score – each company does their own. And there can be other scores, too; the ones businesses use most are calculated for each of your credit reports using formulas from the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO.) Lenders use these scores as a quick and convenient way to decide whether or not to do business with you, or on what terms. A low credit score can lead to things like your being turned down when you want to rent an apartment, paying a bigger deposit for a cell phone contract, or being charged a higher rate of interest for a car loan or credit card.

Don’t forget that credit reports are also sometimes used by employers to decide whether or not they want to hire you. And, the military looks at credit reports when deciding if you’re eligible to get or keep a security clearance.

So, what builds good credit?

  • Pay your bills on time, every time. An automatic payment from your bank can be a good way to do that, but make sure you keep an eye on your balance so you always have enough in your account to cover the payment. You don’t want it to bounce.
  • Don’t get too close to your credit limit. Credit scoring models look at how close you are to being “maxed out” on credit cards. If you use too much of your total credit lines, say by carrying big balances, you can hurt your credit score. Experts advise keeping your use of credit at no more than 30% of your total credit limit – some even say you should keep it at less than 10%.
  • Don’t apply for too much credit in a short time. Your credit score may go down if you apply for or open a lot of new accounts in a short time. Buying something and want the discount that comes with opening a new store card? Transferring balances from an old card to a new one? Do that very often and it will show up on your credit report as lots of new credit accounts, which is likely to hurt your credit score.
  • The more extensive your credit history, the better. Credit scores are partly based on experience over time. The more evidence you have on how you get and pay for credit, the more information there is to determine whether you are a good credit risk.

Here are some more ideas:

  • Buying things with a debit card or cash will not build your credit score. Some people are afraid of getting into trouble with credit cards, so they vow never to have one. The problem is, buying things with cash or using a debit card doesn’t establish a credit repayment history that will be reported to a credit-reporting company. So when you do need a loan for a big-ticket item like a car or home, you won’t have the credit file to make a lender willing to take a chance on you.
  • Pay with a credit card to build credit but try not to carry a balance and make sure you pay your bill on time. You’ll build credit by using your credit card even if you pay off your balances in full each month. And, you’ll avoid finance charges since these only kick in when you carry over a balance from month to month, which is what happens when you pay only the minimum amount due or any other amount less than the full balance owed each month.
  • If you can’t qualify for a regular credit card, a “secured card account” that you put a deposit on can build credit, too. You can get a secured card from many banks or credit unions. With most of these cards your credit line starts out small, but as you demonstrate reliable payments, most companies will extend you more credit and eventually refund your deposit. Secured cards can be expensive and often come with a number of different fees, though, so before you resort to a secured card consider applying to see if you can be approved for a regular credit card with attractive features and pricing.
  • File an “active-duty alert” with the credit-reporting companies before you go on deployment. This makes businesses verify your identity before they issue credit in your name and should help protect you from identity theft. If you want to go even farther, you can freeze your credit. A freeze prevents prospective creditors from accessing your credit file at all, which will keep any new accounts from being opened in your name. There may be a small charge to set up a freeze, unless you are a victim of identity theft. If you decide to freeze your credit, you’ll have to set up the freezes separately with each of the three big credit-reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
  • Keep an eye on your credit reports. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting companies every year at There’s a chance you may find incorrect information that is bringing your score down. If you do, file a dispute with the credit-reporting company.

For more information about credit reports and credit scores visit Ask CFPB at

Is your credit report wrong? How to find out and fix it


The Federal Trade Commission this week released its latest findings in a ten-year study on the accuracy of credit reports. This report is another reminder of how important it is to review your credit report for inaccuracies.

What does this mean to you?

You can check your three credit reports for free once every 12 months at Dispute any errors, and contact the company that reported the incorrect information to correct it.

For example, if your credit report says that you are 30 days behind on a payment to Bank ZYX, but you’re not actually behind, dispute the error with the credit bureau and also by contacting Bank ZYX directly.

If that doesn’t work, file a complaint with us. You’ll get a confirmation number immediately, email updates along the way, and be able to check the progress online.

What’s in a credit score?

The information in your credit report is used to make a credit score, which translates this great mass of information into a single number that essentially indicates the expected likelihood of repaying a loan on time. Generally, the lower the score, the lower the likelihood you’ll repay a loan on time, compared to other consumers.

How are credit reports used?

Credit reports are used in a wide range of situations – including decisions about whether you can rent a home, and in some states, how much you pay for auto and homeowners’ insurance. Sometimes they’re even used in hiring decisions. Banks, landlords, cell phone providers, and many kinds of other companies rely on the accuracy of this information to make decisions.

What happens if there’s a mistake on my credit report?

A mistake in your credit report can cost you because it can stop you from getting the best rate you’re eligible for any time you borrow money. If there are mistakes on your credit report that make you look bad, then you could be paying more than you should be every month.

Do you have more questions about credit reports and scores or other financial questions? Ask CFPB.

You have a right to see specialty consumer reports too


You have the right to know what nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies are saying about you. And you’re entitled to one free report each year, just like with the traditional nationwide consumer reporting companies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. What’s more, nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies have to make it easy for you to get a copy of any file they keep on you – at a minimum, by providing a toll-free number for you to call and order your report. This is an important right, because if you don’t know what’s in those files, you can’t dispute any inaccuracies.

In addition to your free annual report, if you received a notice that you were denied credit, insurance, or employment or experienced another so-called “adverse action” based on a consumer report, you have a right to another free report from the consumer reporting company identified in the notice. To get the additional free report you must request it within 60 days after you receive the notice. Other types of “adverse action” notices you might receive include notice of an unfavorable change in the terms or amount of your credit or insurance coverage, or unfavorable changes in the terms of your employment or of a license or other government benefit.

That’s exactly what we said to nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies in a bulletin we sent out today. Under federal law, they must give you an easy way to get a free copy of your report every 12 months.

So what exactly are nationwide specialty consumer reporting companies and how do they affect you?

These are companies that collect information on a nationwide basis about medical records or payments, residential or tenant history, check-writing history, employment history, or insurance claims. Like the three largest nationwide consumer reporting companies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), they gather and report information about you to creditors, landlords, insurance companies, employers, and others.

You can order reports – including your annual free reports – from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion at – and we recommend that you check your report with each company at least once per year. But you will have to order the specialty consumer reports individually from each reporting company.

To help you access specialty and other consumer reports, we created a list of approximately 40 companies, with the companies’ websites and toll-free telephone numbers. The type of information collected may vary by the company and its specialty industry.

The list includes both the three largest nationwide consumer reporting companies and a longer list of other companies that have identified themselves as consumer reporting companies or provide consumers access to their consumer reports. Not all companies are required to provide a free copy of your annual report, although under federal law all consumer reporting companies must provide you with a copy of your report for a reasonable fee. Please consult the list for further details.

You may not need to check with every single specialty company on the list. Different companies collect information about different things: your medical records or payments, residential or tenant history, check-writing history, employment history, or insurance claims. Many may not even have any information about you. But you may want to check with some or all of these companies:

  • If you were a victim of identity theft or think someone may have fraudulently cashed checks using your bank account.
  • Before applying for insurance.
  • Before applying for a lease.
  • If you’ve applied for a new job and your potential new employer asks for your written authorization to get a report.

Tip: Look for and fix mistakes. Errors in your consumer reports, or fraud caused by identity theft, can make borrowing more expensive, or prevent you from getting credit, insurance, a lease, or a new job.

You’ll also want to make sure the information is up to date.


You can now submit complaints about consumer reporting agencies to us.
If you believe that there’s incorrect information on your consumer report, start by filing a dispute with the consumer reporting company and getting a response directly from the credit reporting company itself. You can also file a dispute with the company that furnished the information to the consumer reporting company.

After you file a complaint with the consumer reporting company, if you are dissatisfied with the resolution, file a complaint with us.


Check your credit report at least once a year.

Ask CFPB for more information about credit reports and credit reporting companies.