Straight Story: Free credit ratings

Economics editor Chris Farrell

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Our economics editor, Chris Farrell, joins us for the audio op-ed that we call the Straight Story. And, Chris, some pretty amazing news this week about a potential settlement regarding credit reports and credit scores. It looks like TransUnion has settled a big class action lawsuit. They're calling it the biggest class action settlement in history. And folks will be getting the option of getting free credit reports and credit scores. And the scores have never been free before.

Chris Farrell: All I can say is, it's about time. Or maybe I should say, hallelujah. It's about time. Now, there's certain restrictions to this, because it's only going to last for what, six to nine months, depending on which service you choose. But I think it's very good news that consumers are going to get their credit scores for free, and my prediction is that this is a precursor. This is a fundamental shift in the industry. Yes, it's a settlement, short period of time, only involves TransUnion, it doesn't involve the other two major credit-reporting bureaus. But I have a feeling this is going to change going forward.

Vigeland: Well, and I guess the real big change here is that a law was passed a couple of years ago where you can get your credit report for free once a year from each of those three agencies. But the credit score, you've always still had to pay for. Isn't it almost more important than the reports themselves.

Farrell: Yes. I mean, look, it's valuable information. I mean, the reason why I'm saying I think that in the future -- I don't know, maybe over the next year or so -- the credit score is going to become free and accessible, is just what you mentioned. You know, there were years when you had to pay for your credit report. It was a real frustration because this is powerful information. It affects your borrowing, the rate that you borrow, whether you're gonna get a good rate on that mortgage or that auto loan. There's a lot of frustration and finally the federal government came in and said, "Look, once a year, you can get a free report." Now my feeling is the exact same thing happened with the credit score. This is not a revolution. This is not going to change all that much, but that number is going to exist, and you and I should know what it is, whenever we want to know.

Vigeland: And I also wanted to address another element of the settlement, which I would find very helpful. As you said, it only lasts six months under the settlement, but if you sign up for the service, it will notify you by e-mail if there are changes to your credit file, and that would include if there are late payments that are flagged. And for those of us who have found out about accidental late payments or nonpayments, this would be a huge benefit.

Farrell: You know, what may be happening to a large extent? If you look at the credit reporting bureaus, they don't care about you and me.

Vigeland: Noooo.

Farrell: They're designed for business. What you just talked about, that's a service that's valuable to the consumer. It changes the customer base. And one of the things I hope is going to happen over a period of time, is that if the credit-reporting agencies and the credit score are going to have all this power, more of it should be directed toward improving consumer information and consumer knowledge. And less worrying about whether or not a lender can slice and dice it's customer base.

Vigeland: All right. The Straight Story from our own Chris Farrell. Chris, all credit to you.

Farrell: Hey, and you know what, I'm looking forward to getting a free credit score.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...