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CFPB Issues Guidance to Address Shoddy Investigation Practices by Consumer Reporting Companies

When consumer reporting companies and furnishers fail to investigate disputed information, consumers are left paying higher interest rates and face greater difficulty finding housing, employment

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a circular to affirm that neither consumer reporting companies nor information furnishers can skirt dispute investigation requirements. The circular outlines how federal and state consumer protection enforcers, including regulators and attorneys general, can bring claims against companies that fail to investigate and resolve consumer report disputes. The CFPB has found that consumer reporting companies and some furnishers have failed to conduct reasonable investigations of consumer disputes and to spend the time necessary to get to the bottom of inaccuracies. These failures can affect, among other things, people’s eligibility for loans and interest rates, for insurance, and for rental housing and employment.

“One wrong piece of information on a person’s credit report can have destructive consequences that follow a consumer for years,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “Companies that fail to properly address consumer disputes in accordance with the law may face serious consequences.”

When people identify inaccurate information on their consumer report, they can dispute it with the consumer reporting company. However, that important right is dependent on consumer reporting companies and furnishers conducting complete investigations. The CFPB’s supervisory exams suggest that consumer reporting companies do not always live up to their investigatory responsibilities. In some cases, the CFPB found consumer reporting companies ignored the results of their investigations and simply deleted disputed tradelines instead of correcting inaccurate information. Consumer complaints received by the CFPB highlight similar problems. In fact, inaccurate information and failures to investigate are the two most common consumer reporting complaints received by the CFPB.

Consumer reporting companies are required to investigate all disputes that are not frivolous or irrelevant. Consumer reporting companies and furnishers may be liable under the Fair Credit Reporting Act if they fail to investigate relevant disputes, and claims can be pursued by both state and federal consumer protection enforcers and regulators. Specific responsibilities for the investigations include:

  • Consumer reporting companies must promptly provide to the furnisher all relevant information regarding a person’s dispute: After a person disputes the accuracy or completeness of information in their file, the consumer reporting company must notify the entity that originally furnished the information within five business days. In addition, the consumer reporting company must give the furnisher all relevant information provided by the individual.
  • Consumer reporting companies and furnishers may not limit a person’s dispute rights: Consumer reporting companies and furnishers must reasonably investigate disputes received directly from individuals. For furnishers, they must reasonably investigate all indirect disputes received from consumer reporting companies. These requirements remain in place even if a person does not include or use the entity’s preferred format, intake forms, or documentation.

Consumer Financial Protection Circulars, such as the one published today, are intended to promote consistency in approach across the various federal and state enforcement agencies and regulators. They are also intended to provide transparency to partner agencies regarding the CFPB’s intended approach when cooperating in enforcement actions. The circulars provide background information about applicable law, articulate considerations relevant to the CFPB’s exercise of its authorities, and, in the interest of maintaining consistency, advise other parties with authority to enforce federal consumer financial protection law.

Read the Consumer Financial Protection Circular, Reasonable investigation of consumer reporting disputes.

Consumers can submit credit reporting complaints, or complaints about other financial products and services, by visiting the CFPB’s website or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

Employees who believe their companies have violated federal consumer financial protection laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act, are encouraged to send information about what they know to whistleblower@cfpb.gov.

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that implements and enforces Federal consumer financial law and ensures that markets for consumer financial products are fair, transparent, and competitive. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.