In 2003 the Fair Credit Reporting Act was amended to allow every consumer in the United States free access to their credit reports once every 12 months from any company that maintains it. The one legitimate website where you can claim your Federally guaranteed free credit reports is www.annualcreditreport.com. Despite the fact that we’re guaranteed these free credit reports, very few of them are claimed by consumers. So the question I have is….Why are they going unclaimed?
Each of the recognized credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) maintains credit files on over 200 million consumers. There are three nationally recognized credit bureaus, so that equals 600 million credit reports that could be claimed every 12 months. According to the CDIA (The credit bureau’s trade organization), only 25 million files have been claimed each year since the beginning of 2004. 25 million divided by 600 million is 4.2%, which is a small fraction of what we COULD be claiming. When you add Innovis Data Solutions to the mix the total number of credit reports we could be claiming climbs well past 600 million. Point being…that 96% figure in my title is probably too low.
Here’s why we’re not fully leveraging our free credit report rights…
1. Consumer’s don’t know their rights – Other than consumers who are “in the know” with respect to their credit report rights, very few consumers know about the amendment to the FCRA or the annualcreditreport.com site.
2. Confusion over where to get their free reports – Any given day you will see or hear an advertisement for free credit reports or free credit scores. Why? Credit reports and scores have become big business and the credit bureaus are profiting through aggressive marketing.
3. Do we want to see what’s there? – Consumers who have bad credit generally know they have bad credit so they’re avoiding their reports for fear of confirmation of the bad news. This is like not going to the doctor because you don’t want to hear what he has to say.
4. Are we apathetic? – There is a segment of the population that simply doesn’t care about their credit unless they get declined by a lender. Then their credit becomes paramount in their lives. These are the same people who are critical of people who closely follow the credit industry, like me. “Why do you care so much?” is what I usually hear from these folks. My response…”I care so much because you should too.”
What’s really sad is that there’s no evidence that the abysmal percentage of free credit reports claimed will ever increase. In fact, it will likely go down as aggressive “free” report advertising continues and the coverage of the 2003 amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act completely dies off.
John Ulzheimer, who broke this story, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.