Consumers have many, many complaints about financial companies, but the ones that really get under their skin are in the credit reporting business.
Equifax topped the list of the 10 companies receiving the most complaints about financial matters from February through April, with a monthly average of nearly 950 complaints, according to newly released data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (There's a two-month lag on complaint data to reflect the 60 days companies have to respond to them.) Experian took the second spot and TransUnion was fourth. Bank of America ranked third, though its complaints were primarily related to mortgages, credit cards and bank account services.
Equifax also saw the highest rate of increase in complaints of the top 10 companies, with complaints in the three-month period rising by 8 percent over the same time period a year ago. Many other companies on the list had their complaint rate decline.
Credit reports were not the most common complaint topic, however, that dubious distinction went to debt collection, which was the subject of nearly one-third of the 23,400 total complaints recorded in June. The agency received an average of 7,286 monthly complaints about debt collection between February and April. (Credit reporting came in second at 4,538.) But Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, said the two are related.
Noting that the most common type of complaint about a credit report concerned incorrect information on the report, he said that often, the incorrect information relates to a debt collection.
"I'm not defending the credit bureaus. I'm saying it's all related," he said. "The credit bureaus are the flypaper where all this false information is collected."
In one of the complaints filed about credit reports, for example, a consumer told the bureau that "I have worked with the company and have paid this account in full. This must be removed from my credit report. I have called Equifax multiple times to have this removed."
Tim Klein, a spokesman for Equifax, said the company recently received the bureau data and is reviewing it. "Earlier this year, we announced, along with two other national credit reporting agencies, the National Consumer Assistance Plan which will enhance our ability to collect complete and accurate consumer information and provide consumers more transparency and a better experience interacting with the credit bureaus about their credit reports," he added.
Richard Cordray, director of the bureau, said in a prepared statement that the complaints "are the CFPB's compass and play a central role in everything we do. They help us identify and prioritize problems for potential action."
Changes may already be in the works for the credit reporting companies. In March, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement with the big three credit reporting companies over how they resolve disputes over the information they report, and the companies agreed to implement changes nationwide.
For example, the companies will have a trained credit bureau agent handle disputes over errors in reporting information. (Currently, the dispute process is automated, and without a human eye to sort out what is going on, incorrect information can wind up staying on consumers' reports.)
Time will tell if the bureau's public shaming will lead to changes for consumers in other businesses.