Three nationwide credit reporting agencies have agreed to fix disputed information on credit reports more quickly, wait longer before adding potentially damaging information on medical debt and scrutinize certain data furnished by outside entities, according to a multistate settlement announced Wednesday.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the pact that Equifax, Experian and TransUnion struck with attorneys general in 31 states, including Indiana. It calls for the agencies to pay a combined $6 million to participating states and to adjust a host of business practices over the next three years.
"It's a good day for all consumers in the United States," said DeWine, a Republican. He spearheaded the investigation that led to the deal after reading a 2012 investigation by The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch about consumers denied car loans, house loans and jobs because of mistakes by reporting agencies.
Other attorneys general praised the deal.
"I am pleased that our agreement brings about reforms that will provide for more effective dealings and better communication between consumers and the credit reporting agencies," said Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
"This is a comprehensive settlement that has taken participating states years to negotiate," Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said in a written statement. "I empathize with those Nevadans who have long struggled with these issues, and am actively working to achieve changes and positive results."
The agreement requires agencies to:
— Maintain information about problems with entities that furnish them data — such as collection agencies, department stores or banks — and make that information available to states so patterns can be spotted;
— Use a better, more detailed system to share data with those so-called furnishers;
— Set up a more intensive process for complicated disputes, such as those involving identity theft, fraud or mixed credit files in which two people's identities have been confused;
— Educate consumers about how they can further dispute the outcome of an investigation.
The settlement prohibits credit reporting agencies from adding information about fines and tickets to a consumer's credit report and bars the addition of medical debt until 180 days after it is reported to give consumers time to work with their insurance companies.
It also allows consumers to obtain an extra free credit report in a 12-month period if a charge they dispute turns out to result in a change to their report. Federal law already allows consumers to get a free copy of their credit report once a year from each of the three reporting agencies.
"We believe that all these changes will directly improve the accuracy of consumers' credit reports and the quality of service they receive when they correct errors," DeWine said.
Stuart Pratt, President and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, which represents the credit reporting agencies, said the settlement resulted from collaborative discussions between the parties in Wednesday's pact and the attorney general of New York, who announced core elements of the deal known as the National Consumer Assistance Plan in March.
"The three nationwide credit reporting agencies have been in compliance with federal and state law, but as we showed in launching the National Consumer Assistance Plan, we do not hesitate to make improvements beyond what the law requires when doing so will benefit consumers," he said.
Pratt said the most recent comprehensive government study found credit reports are materially accurate 98 percent of the time.
Besides Ohio and Indiana, states in the settlement were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.
DeWine said he anticipates nonparticipating states will also reap the benefits the settlement calls for the companies to change overall business practices.