On February 27, the CFPB issued supplemental guidance related to consumer reporting and held a public meeting focused on consumer reporting issues. The CFPB also released a report on consumer reporting complaints it has received.

Supervisory Guidance

The CFPB issued a supervision bulletin (2014-01) that restates the general obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for furnishers of information to credit reporting agencies and “warn[s] companies that provide information to credit reporting agencies not to avoid investigating consumer disputes.” It follows and supplements guidance issued last year detailing the CFPB’s expectations for furnishers.

The latest guidance is predicated on the CFPB’s concern that when a furnisher responds to a consumer’s dispute, it may, without conducting an investigation, simply direct the consumer reporting agency (CRA) to delete the item it has furnished. The guidance states that a furnisher should not assume that it ceases to be a furnisher with respect to an item that a consumer disputes simply because it directs the CRA to delete that item. In addition, the guidance explains that whether an investigation is reasonable depends on the circumstances, but states that furnishers should not assume that simply deleting an item will generally constitute a reasonable investigation.

The CFPB promises to continue to monitor furnishers’ compliance with FCRA regarding consumer disputes of information they have furnished to CRAs. Furnishers should take immediate steps to ensure they are fulfilling their obligations under the law.

Consumer Advisory Board Meeting

The public session of this week’s two-day Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) Meeting featured remarks from Director Cordray, and a discussion among CAB members, industry representatives, and consumer advocates on several major topics: (i) use of credit history in employment decisions; (ii) consumer access to credit information; and (iii) the credit dispute process.

Mr. Cordray focused on steps the CFPB has taken related to the credit reporting market, including: (i) launching a complaint portal through which consumers have submitted 31,000 consumer reporting complaints, nearly 75% of which have related to the accuracy and completeness of credit reports; (ii) beginning to supervise large credit reporting companies and many large furnishers; (iii) identifying process changes, including upgrades to the e-Oscar consumer dispute system to allow consumers to file disputes online and to provide furnishers direct access to dispute materials; and (iv) issuing guidance to furnishers on resolving consumer disputes.

Mr. Cordray also expressed support for a “major initiative” in the credit card industry to make credit scoring information more easily and regularly available to card holders. Mr. Cordray stated that he sent letters to the CEOs of the major card companies “strongly encouraging them to consider making credit scores and educational content freely available to their customers on a regular basis.” He added that he sees “no reason why this approach should not be replicated with customers across other product lines as well.”

In his CAB remarks, Mr. Cordray also identified some persistent concerns that resulted in the additional furnisher guidance issued today, discussed above.  He stated that “[s]ome furnishers are taking short-cuts to avoid undertaking appropriate investigations of consumer disputes. For example, a consumer may find an error on the credit report and file a dispute about an incorrect debt or a credit card that was never opened. In response, the furnisher may simply delete that account from the information it passes along to the credit reporting company.” He stated that such practices deprive consumers of important protections.

During the discussion session, consumer advocates complained that credit reports provided to consumers are not the same as the reports provided to creditors. They claimed that consumers receive “sterilized” versions and do not, for example, get to see if their file is mixed with some else’s file. They also complained that the reports do not provide credit scores.

With regard to the CFPB’s support for creditors disclosing credit scores on a regular basis, several participants, including a representative for CRAs, stated that creditors should be free to provide the credit score of their choice, and not only FICO.  Mr. Cordray and the CFPB’s Corey Stone responded that the CFPB is encouraging voluntary participation in score disclosure programs, but stated the Bureau does not believe that any one score needs to be disclosed. Instead, Mr. Stone explained that creditors should provide the score that is most relevant and useful for its customers.  Mr. Cordray stressed the importance of providing educational information with the score, regardless of what score is provided.

The consumer advocates also were sharply critical of the CRAs and certain creditors’ dispute resolution processes. One participant raised specific concerns about the lack of human interaction in online dispute processes and the sale of certain add-on products offered during the dispute process.

The industry’s representative defended recent enhancements to the dispute process and highlighted the efficiency benefits of online disputes, including quicker resolution.  He added that many furnishers prefer to hear directly from their customers, and that the real issue is how creditors respond.

Report on Consumer Reporting Complaints

The “credit reporting complaint snapshot” states that of the nearly 300,000 complaints the CFPB has received on a range of consumer financial products and services, approximately 31,000 or 11 percent have been about credit reporting. The CFPB accepts consumer credit reporting complaints in five categories: (i) incorrect credit report information; (ii) credit reporting company’s investigation; (iii) improper use of a credit report; (iv) inability to obtain credit report or score; and (v) credit monitoring or identity protection services. The CFPB reports that the most common complaints related to incorrect information on a credit report, while very few complaints related to identity protection or credit monitoring services. The report reviews the complaint handling process, and indicates that companies have resolved approximately 91 percent of the complaints submitted to them.