Being able to review a credit report in Spanish will be a huge help for Rosalie Remarais in her job as the Community Development Mortgage Loan officer at Five Star Bank in Rochester, New York.
Remarais works with low- to moderate-income families, many of whom are first-time homebuyers, to help them purchase a house. One of the first things she does when working with potential homeowners is to go over their credit score and look at a credit report — something many have never done before.
For the clients she works with who speak Spanish, having the document in their native language will save her time having to translate the report for them, and will help customers fix any errors they find by themselves.
More from Invest in You:
How to prevent fear and anxiety from ruining your financial life
Op-ed: Why your financial problems make perfect sense to a psychologist
Equifax will now offer credit reports in Spanish
"It would give them that power to say, 'I'm in control,'" she said. "Because when it's in English, the only one that has any control of that credit report is me."
Spanish language credit reports available now
"This is the first and only time that a bureau has been able to offer a fully Spanish translated report to consumers," said Beverly Anderson, president of global consumer solutions at Equifax. She added that people can request Spanish reports online as well as by mail, and that the company also offers customer service support in Spanish.
The move was a long time coming for the Hispanic community in the U.S., as Spanish is the second most common language spoken after English. About 62 million people in the U.S. are of Hispanic origin, and more than 40 million speak Spanish as their first language.
"This is something we've been asking for for a very long time," said Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, adding that some advocates have been working on this for decades. "It's positive."
Credit reports are an important financial tool
Building solid credit is important for many things from purchasing houses to cars.
"It's a big step not only for the immigrant community but also for Americans who are bilingual, and English is their second language, but Spanish is their first," said Marlene Cortes, manager of CASH-Roc Your Refund Project and Language Access at Empire Justice Center, a non-profit law firm focused on social and economic justice in New York state. It will also help children with parents who don't speak English and thus must interpret and translate, she said.
Having access to your credit report — a compilation of the financial data your credit score is based on — means that you can better understand the score and fix any mistakes. That's because if a consumer thinks there is an issue with their credit score — which could be lowered by incorrect information or identity theft — they cannot dispute it with FICO or VantageScore, another credit scoring model.
Without the ability to read and understand the reports in Spanish, some consumers have no idea they have mistakes on the report or may have had their identity stolen.
Remarais has seen bilingual and limited English-speaking clients pay thousands of dollars to have their credit reports cleaned up, something that they could do themselves for free.
"With the credit report being in Spanish, it empowers people do to it themselves," said Cortes.
The timing of the new Spanish language reports will be helpful to those who have been hit financially by the coronavirus pandemic, including many Spanish-speaking essential workers. Because of Covid, through April 2022 consumers can pull one free credit report per week instead of having access to only one free report each year.
Now is an especially good time for everyone to review their credit report, as errors on the documents increased during the pandemic.
In February and March of 2021, Consumer Reports asked 6,000 volunteers to pull their credit reports and 34% found at least one error. And, complaints about consumer credit reports with incorrect information surged nearly 120% from 2019 to 2020, according to data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
To be sure, there are other companies that offer other services for Spanish speakers. FICO has offered a credit score in Spanish since 2012. Experian offers Spanish language resources and education, and TransUnion offers Spanish translations for credit reports over the phone.
Still, these offerings aren't the same as what English speakers get, which is a problem, according to Wu.
"What you really want is the full shebang just as an English speaker would get it," she said, adding that having access to paper and digital reports in one's native language is important, as the credit companies often experience long hold times for phone calls.
Other companies also serve the community, such as Crediverso, a Hispanic-owned personal finance firm founded in 2020 that offers free bilingual products, including a Spanish-language credit report, which was available before Equifax made its announcement.
"I think it all begins with identifying a need that has been kind of long overlooked by financial institutions," said Carlos Hernandez, founder of Crediverso. "We realized that really across all financial products the Hispanic community was very much underserved relative to the general market."
Advocates hope that the move by Equifax prompts the other major credit reporting companies, TransUnion and Experian, to introduce their own translated reports in Spanish available online, by mail and over the phone.
They also hope that companies consider offering reports in even more languages in the future, including Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic and even American Sign Language.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.