Credit insiders guide to credit bureaus and credit reports
Psychosis #1: The nature of credit bureaus.
LET'S BEGIN with a startling notion: Most of your creditors don't want you to read this. Why? Probably because the world's most powerful banking interests desperately need consumers to buy into a few oft-told myths which perpetuate their businesses. Not knowing the truth, though, can cost a consumer tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars during an average lifetime.
Where credit reports are concerned, there are essentially two sets of "truths." On the one hand, there is the fairly meaningless happy patter creditors want you to believe, which you can find repeated in just about every credit-related book and Internet site. And then, of course, there's the real truth which I'll shortly elucidate.
Unfortunately, in order to truly embrace stark reality we must first peruse the prevailing fiction. So we'll examine both here. This article will aim to demolish the various social psychoses perpetuated by your exploitative creditors (and abusive debt collectors, if you happen to be acquainted with those) and transport you to a veritable Valhalla of consumer mental health. Even better, maybe you'll end up saving a few bucks too.
So, without further introduction, consider this myth: Credit bureaus are official, perhaps even quasi-governmental agencies, and such vital American institutions work alongside your creditors to keep every adult citizen toeing the financial line.
There's so much wrong with practically every word of this fantasy that it's tough for a consumer advocate to know where to begin. To be sure, there isn't anything much official about the credit bureaus at all. Rather, the major consumer reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- are simply three large companies operating respectably within the private sector.
In fact, if you were so inclined, you could own a piece of Equifax and Experian yourself just by telephoning your stockbroker. (Forget about buying shares in TransUnion for now, though, as it's still privately owned.)
Sadly, too many creditors want Americans to believe that the credit bureaus enjoy an official, quasi-governmental franchise and will somehow punish consumers who dare to fight back against sloppy reporting, usurious APRs, exploitative late fees, inexplicable surcharges, unethical debt collection practices, and worse. Such creditors want consumers to believe that challenging a credit report item is like questioning a courthouse record. Fortunately, that's just not so.
So contrary to the prevailing perceptual reality, there are no official bureaus. And while most Americans perceive their credit reports to have at least the same legal standing as their driving records, the truth is that the government has no role in producing them. Put bluntly, no law mandates a credit report's existence, and such documents may be considered to be no more than a list of allegations remaining to be proven.