The Credit Data Canon
Working with credit data can be complex. In addition to understanding how credit data is used, there is the business of accessing and furnishing credit data and compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). We’ve put together a list of definitions on five of the most prominent topics pertaining to credit data to help you navigate the space.
Credit Reporting Agency
A credit reporting agency (CRA), sometimes referred to as a credit bureau, is a business that compiles and maintains historical credit information on individuals and businesses. The three largest CRAs are Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®, all of which also sell credit reports. They receive information from lenders and other sources about your borrowing and repayment history, including:
- Original loan amounts
- Credit card credit limits
- Balances on loans and credit cards
- Account payment status, including repayment history
- Items sent to collections
- Bankruptcies, judgments, and other public records
CRAs compile this information into a credit report, including a credit score.
A tradeline is a record of borrowing activity that is reported from lenders to CRAs. Each tradeline is included on a person’s credit report upon approval for credit and includes all activity under a credit account. A tradeline may be established for items like mortgages, car loans, student loans, and credit cards.
Each account has a separate tradeline that includes relevant information about both the creditor and the debt. This information is weighted according to each CRA’s internal standards and used to calculate a borrower’s credit score. While lenders may look at credit scores to determine creditworthiness, tradelines can provide helpful context and additional information on a borrower’s credit history.
CRAs compile credit reports based on information lenders and other creditors provide or “furnish.” When a consumer opens a line of credit, for example, a tradeline is established in their credit report and will be updated as the lender furnishes data (like repayment information) to the CRAs –typically every 30 to 45 days.
There is a standardized ‘Metro 2’ file format for credit reporting that was created 1997 by the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) to facilitate data furnishment. While lenders are not required by law to furnish consumer credit data, this information sharing is critical for CRAs to establish accurate credit scores and directly benefits both the financial institution that is managing credit risk and the consumer. By having their credit data reported in this format, consumers can better track and manage their credit history, which can help them make more informed financial decisions and potentially build credit to qualify for better loan terms. Effective furnishment programs benefit the broader credit industry and lead to more efficient and effective loan underwriting and risk management while incentivizing higher repayment rates and better account management by individual consumers.
Those lenders that do must follow a setup process for each credit bureau with which they want to furnish data – and they must abide by the regulations set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This can be an expensive, time-intensive process if the lender decides to handle it themselves. Working with an expert partner like Bloom Credit significantly reduces the time, complexities, and compliance burden that lenders face when furnishing accurate credit data to the credit bureaus. Subsequently, many lenders opt to only furnish data to one credit bureau. This can lead to discrepancies in credit reports and scores as CRAs have different information.
Even with advancements in technology, the credit reporting process is not perfect and mistakes happen. More than one-third (34%) of U.S. consumers have found an error on their credit report. This could range from a name misspelling to erroneous tradelines that have been reported. The latter is the type of mistake that may limit a consumer’s access to credit.
Consumers are urged to check their credit reports to ensure data accuracy. In the case an error is discovered, consumers can dispute the mistake and potentially raise their credit score. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau recommends that consumers dispute errors with both the creditor and the bureau(s) where the error exists. Consumers should point out the error and explain (with documentation) why the information is incorrect in writing. To do this, consumers should include:
Contact information (name, address, and telephone number)
Highlighted excerpts that include each mistake (include account numbers)
Explanation of the dispute
A request that the information be updated/removed
An enclosed copy of the section of the credit report that includes the disputed items.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act and aims to protect information collected by CRAs, tenant screening services, and medical information companies. Consumer report information is barred from being provided to any person or entity that does not have a purpose outlined in the Act.
Lenders and other companies that furnish credit data to CRAs are also beholden to specific legal obligations, like the duty to look into disputed information. Even entities that use credit information for employment, credit, or insurance purposes are required to notify consumers when an adverse action occurs based on credit reports.