Under an agreement announced Monday with New York, Equifax Information Services, Experian Information Solutions and TransUnion—the three biggest companies that collect and disseminate credit information on more than 200 million Americans—will change the way they handle errors and list unpaid medical bills as part of the broadest industry overhaul in more than a decade.
The plan was announced as part of an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
"Credit reports touch every part of our lives. They affect whether we can obtain a credit card, take out a college loan, rent an apartment, or buy a car—and sometimes even whether we can get jobs," Schneiderman said in a Monday afternoon release.
"The nation's largest reporting agencies have a responsibility to investigate and correct errors on consumers' credit reports," he added. "This agreement will reform the entire industry and provide vital protections for millions of consumers across the country. I thank the three agencies for working with us to help consumers."
Among the changes consumers will see:
—Consumers will find more educational material at www.annualcreditreport.com, the website that allows consumers to obtain a free credit report from each of the three ratings agencies once a year.
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—Consumers who obtain their free annual credit report and dispute information resulting in modification of the disputed item will be able to obtain another free annual report without waiting a year.
—Consumers who dispute items on their credit reports will receive additional information from the credit bureaus along with the results of their dispute, including a description of what they can do if they are not satisfied with the outcome of their dispute.
—The credit reporting agencies are focusing on an enhanced dispute resolution process for consumers that are proven victims of identity theft and fraud, as well as those involved in mixed file situations.
Changes made to improve data accuracy and quality include:
—Medical debts won't be reported until after a 180-day "waiting period" to allow insurance payments to be applied. The CRAs will also remove from credit reports previously reported medical collections that have been or are being paid by insurance.
—Consistent standards will be reinforced by the credit bureaus to entities that submit data for inclusion in a credit report (data furnishers).
—Data furnishers will be prohibited from reporting authorized users without a date of birth and the agencies will reject data that does not comply with this requirement.
—The CRAs will eliminate the reporting of debts that did not arise from a contract or agreement by the consumer to pay, such as tickets or fines.
—A multi-company working group will be formed to regularly review and help ensure consistency and uniformity in the data submitted by data furnishers for inclusion in a consumer's credit report.
—Reuters contributed to this report.