If you don’t know what credit repair is, you either have good credit and never needed it, or you are in an industry that has nothing to do with consumer credit. Otherwise for better or for worse, it’s likely you have heard of or have general knowledge of credit repair’s existence.
As a 15 year financial and credit services professional, I can attest that it not only exists, it is a vital resource for Americans that have faced financial hardship at one point in their lives. That being said, it is an emerging industry that is not without its challenges.
Consumer credit reporting and debt collection industries have been in the regulatory spotlight over the past year. Just this past week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB Director Richard Cordray made a statement to the National Attorney Generals Association. In this address, he declared the CFPB the “cop on the beat” and vowed to enforce consumer protections on behalf of consumers. They have identified the key areas as the “four Ds”: deceptive marketing, debt traps, dead ends, and discrimination.
Recently, I was interviewed for an article titled: “The industry that charges low-income Americans to fix credit errors they can fix themselves for free.” I was told that the article was to be penned as unbiased, fair and balanced. Albeit long and unimaginative, the title clearly states, this was not the case.
The title infers that credit repair organizations or CRO’s target consumers that are at the end of their rope and spend their last dime in the hopes a CRO can “fix” their credit problems. I cannot stress enough that credit repair is NOT for those that are currently facing financial stress or hardship.
The woman highlighted in the article is described as someone who was drowning in debt and seeking a lifeline. Immediately, I recognize this is a poor example to center an article around. This woman should have never signed up for credit repair but does need help. In my professional opinion, her best option was to speak directly with the medical center or a credit counselor, to discuss a balance reduction or getting on a payment plan.
Conversely, credit repair is designed for consumers that have suffered an economic event, are back on their feet and trying to do the same for their credit report. Economic events include: bankruptcy, identity theft, divorce, medical events or loss of job. Once a consumer is beyond the event and recovering financially, there are often inaccuracies reporting that could prove costly to their credit score, preventing them from obtaining the most favorable credit terms.
The FTC, or Federal Trade Commission, has reported that 1 in 5 Americans have errors on their credit reports that could cost them valuable credit score points. As of today, March 9, 2015, it was announced that the credit reporting giants Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will be revamping their investigation methods so that consumer disputes can be properly reviewed by trained personnel. This is a direct acknowledgement by the bureaus that there is a challenge with the current process.
My point here is that the issues correcting and investigating credit reporting errors is not some farce created by the credit repair industry, designed to lure unwitting consumers. This process can be tedious, time consuming and frustrating for consumers that are either unknowledgeable or too busy to do it on their own.
Moreover, the need for consumers to have access to qualified help in regards to their credit has been, again, underscored by recent activity by the credit reporting agencies themselves. The big three, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, are currently pushing legislation that would exempt them from the Credit Repair Organizations Act or CROA, so that they can provide these types of services to consumers without complying with the law designed to protect said consumers.
Just this past week, the Missouri Legislature moved a resolution asking congress to reform CROA so agencies can help consumers more freely without being tied to the constraints of the law. My point here is that our services are identified as a necessary function of our economy, yet we are consistently demonized as the problem.
To the author’s point, as in most every industry, credit repair does have some bad actors. To uncover the extent of these charlatans, let’s take a look at the statistics. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, released their annual Sentinel Report. The report compiles complaints filed across every consumer complaint agency nationwide including the BBB, FTC, State AG offices as well as the CFPB. In 2014 there were 1957 credit repair complaints filed nationally, accounting for .08% of all consumer complaints filed. This is less than half of the 5240 romance scams and 4048 office supply complaints filed.
Compare this to the 280,998 debt collection and 35,394 credit bureau complaints accounting for 10.83% and 1.37% of consumer complaints. When put into proper perspective, the credit repair space seems far less threatening.
Moreover, the credit repair industry is working to self regulate itself and further reduce complaints. NACSO, or the National Associations of Credit Services Organizations, is a 501c3 non-profit. It is comprised of likeminded credit services organizations that volunteer their time, talent and treasure to help improve consumer protections and encourage best business practices by other CRO’s. NACSO is a young but ambitious organization that has ongoing engagement with regulators, in the effort to work together and raise the bar in the industry.
If a CSO does their job correctly, there is significant value received by the consumer. True credit repair is about correcting errors and educating consumers for long term credit health. Competent CSO’s help their clients save thousands beyond their investment in the service if they follow our guidance. It is true that consumers can dispute items on their own. In fact, we must disclose this to every client that enrolls in our services before they start. The fact that there are literally thousands of free credit tools on the web, and still consumers choose to use a CSO for assistance, should prove our worth.
I often hear analogies like: “you can change your own oil, do your own taxes or cut your own hair.” If clients find value in a service and it is provided in a manner that is transparent and fair, who are we to judge what is and is not worthy of being a paid service? Do you change your own oil?
Maybe a better title could have been: “An Emerging Credit Services Industry Working to Repair its own Credibility While Helping Consumers Repair Theirs.” It still has 16 words in it!