Feds Slam Credit Reporting Agencies for Failure to Correct Errors / Public News Service

Written by on January 26, 2022

People fill out paperwork at a credit-repair class at Faith Church Los Angeles. (Jason Tillman)

People fill out paperwork at a credit-repair class at Faith Church Los Angeles. (Jason Tillman)

When people complained about errors on their credit reports last year, the big three credit-reporting agencies provided relief in just 2% of cases monitored by the feds – compared with 25% in 2019, according to the latest report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The report said Equifax, Experian and Transunion often failed to respond substantively to an error, especially if the consumer hired a third party, such as a credit-repair company or law firm. John Heath, directing attorney at Lexington Law, specializes in credit cases and said unresolved errors can keep people from buying their first home or car – and even from getting a job.

“Potential employers are looking at credit reports as a way to determine whether somebody is going to be a good fit,” he said.

Heath would like to see Congress change the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require credit-reporting agencies and companies that offer credit terms to respond to third-party inquiries. The three credit-repair agencies did not respond by deadline to a request for comment.

The Rev. Andre Chapple, senior pastor at Faith Church Los Angeles and chief executive of the African American Empowerment Coalition, said problems with credit block many people from building wealth as homeowners, and many aren’t sure where to turn for assistance.

“We help people to understand that whole ecosystem of credit and credit responsibility,” he said. “We help them get free credit repair for three months. As a result, their credit scores are increasing significantly.”

Consumers submitted more than 700,000 complaints to the CFPB about the credit-reporting firms from January 2020 to September 2021, which is more than half of all complaints the bureau received.

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Time was, when someone told you, “Now, you’re cooking with gas!” it was meant as a compliment. But research shows that using a gas cooktop or range can introduce dangerous pollutants in your home.

According to the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, many retailers fail to adequately inform people of the dangers of cooking with gas, and should warn them at the point of sale. Diane Brown, director of Arizona PIRG, said an open gas flame can release carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and particulate matter into a home kitchen.

“Running a stove for as little as one hour can lead to concentrations of unsafe pollutants that far exceed health-based standards,” she said. “Exposure can contribute to asthma, especially in children.”

Arizona PIRG has said it wants retailers to put mandatory product-safety warnings on all natural gas stoves. The group has pointed to data from a 2020 study by medical and environmental groups that found natural gas contributes to climate change as well as air pollution in confined spaces.

Brown said it’s important for people to know there are nontoxic alternatives to gas appliances.

“Cooking with electric and induction technology offers a healthier, safer and more energy-efficient choice for consumers,” she said. “Electric and induction cooktops are compatible with renewable energy.”

Brown said Arizona PIRG is calling on major national retailers to attach warning labels to gas stoves that describe potential health risks and stress that proper ventilation is crucial. They also recommend installing carbon monoxide alarms in homes where gas appliances are in use.

“Consumers deserve to have adequate warning of potential dangers of products,” she said, “particularly when it comes to a costly, long-term decision like purchasing a kitchen appliance.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has voluntary regulations for gas appliances but does not require mandatory safety warnings.

Disclosure: Arizona PIRG Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Energy Policy, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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Kentucky households can still apply for assistance to help pay their water bills.

Additional federal aid through the American Rescue Plan Act provided the state $18 million to pay water companies directly to cover delinquent bills, past-due charges, and fees and taxes for drinking and wastewater services. The program is slated to run through September of next year.

Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said residents in every county will be able to get assistance.

“This is the first time that there’s been a water and wastewater assistance program,” Friedlander pointed out. “Some local communities have had a few, but this is the first time we’ve been able to do this statewide.”

Kentuckians can apply for help paying water bills by contacting their local Community Action Agency. Find your agency online at kynect.ky.gov.

According to the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association, consumers owed more than $23 billion in utility debt in 2021, up from $20 billion the previous year.

Friedlander noted unpaid bills can have ripple effects, further destabilizing struggling families.

“It’s actually in some ways what’s kept people out of housing, is that they’ve owed past water bills, and there hasn’t been a lot of assistance for that,” Friedlander observed. “This helps with that. This helps people stay in housing, which is what we really need to do.”

Research showed low-income households spend around 16% of their budget on their water bills, and minimum-wage workers have to work around 10 hours per month just to pay for water services.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Consumer advocates are speaking out against a proposed ballot initiative that would reform California’s so-called “Lemon Law.”

Current law allows people who have been defrauded or sold a defective product to sue for damages plus attorney’s fees. The ballot initiativeThe ballot initiative would limit the plaintiff’s attorneys to 20% of the amount recovered.

Longtime activist Rosemary Shahan is the founder and president Sacramento-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. She said that change would hobble the victims but says nothing about the amount big companies can spend to defend the suits.

“It would make it practically impossible for consumers to get an attorney and fight back in court when they’ve been victimized by a really unsafe product or fraud,” said Shahan.

The initiative was written by the Civil Justice Association of California, a group Shahan says is backed by more than a dozen big corporations, including car manufacturers, oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, telecoms and banks.

Unverified reports emerged over the weekend that CJAC may halt its efforts to gather signatures. But president Kyla Christoffersen Powell said in a statement “We intend to pursue our measure and are evaluating our options in light of COVID and other factors.”

She also has said that plaintiff’s attorneys are abusing current laws, dragging out litigation for profit.

Shahan said California’s trailblazing Lemon Law has drawn fire for decades.

“At CJAC their executive director has met with me over the years and tried to persuade us to weaken California’s lemon law in various ways,” said Shahan. “And I’ve always just said no. So I think they’re just frustrated.”

To qualify for the ballot, the initiative backers will need to attract more than 623,000 signatures – which is %5 of the people who voted in the last election for governor.

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