The Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPB) says the big three credit reporting companies are still not playing well with others. A new report from the agency says Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion together only responded or reported providing relief to less than 2 percent of covered complaints from consumers in 2021, down from nearly 25 percent in 2019.

“America’s credit reporting oligopoly has little incentive to treat consumers fairly when their credit reports have errors,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “Today’s report is further evidence of the serious harms stemming from their faulty financial surveillance business model.”

CFPB says more than 200 million Americans have credit files and the contents therein play a critical role in their lives, impacting more than just their access to financial services. Lenders, of course, rely on this information in deciding on whether or not to approve loans and on what terms, but the information is also used in employment decisions, and in obtaining access to housing, insurance, and essential utilities. Inaccuracies in credit files drive up the cost of credit and limit opportunities such as starting a small business or buying a home.

The agency received more than 700,000 consumer complaints about the three reporting companies from January 2020 through September of last year, representing more than half of all complaints the agency received during that period. The most frequent complaint CFPB receives is about inaccurate credit file information, with consumers most often claiming that the inaccurate data belongs to someone else or describing being victims of identity theft.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires credit reporting agencies to conduct a review of complaints sent to them through CFPB when consumers complain about incomplete or inaccurate information and appear to have previously attempted to fix the problem with one of the companies. The companies are required to then report their determinations and actions on these covered complaints back to the CFPB.

The Bureau found the three companies often failed to provide substantive responses, especially when they alleged the complaints were sent in by third parties. However, consumers are allowed to authorize third-party representatives to submit complaints on their behalf.

The report found:

  • Equifax most often promised to open investigations and send the results to the consumers at later dates but did not provide CFPB with the outcomes of the investigations.
  • TransUnion made similar promises and frequently failed to provide the outcomes of investigations to the CFPB. It consistently refused to take action because it believed the complaints were submitted by third parties.
  • Experian also frequently refused to act on third party complaints but did substantively respond to the remaining complaints.

Medical debts are one of the main sources of consumer reporting inaccuracies and mistakes. Consumers find that opaque pricing, the complex system of insurance coverage, and frequent delays in receipt of bills create an unnavigable quagmire and can make it harder to resolve billing errors. Previous CFPB research points to a struggle on the part of consumers to determine whether the debt even belongs to them or if the amount is accurate.

Consumers describe a reporting system that is not working for them and the serious consequences that follow when inaccurate information is, and remains, on their consumer reports.

CFPB also found:

  • All three companies rely heavily on boilerplate responses rather than providing ones that are meaningful and useful, despite having up to 60 calendar days to do so.
  • Beginning in early 2020, Experian and TransUnion stopped providing substantive responses to consumers’ complaints if they suspected that a third-party was involved in its submission.
  • In many instances, Equifax and TransUnion promised to investigate but failed to provide the outcomes of their investigations to the CFPB and instead stated that they would forward the complaints to their “dispute channel.”

Overall, consumers describe feeling frustrated and stressed when the nationwide consumer reporting companies’ automated processes for correcting inaccuracies do not work or when they do not get responses to their concerns. Consumers report that they spend time, energy, and money to try to correct inaccuracies.