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Originally published Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Consumer agency to oversee credit-report firms

Areas of concern include the accuracy of the information, how difficult it is to correct the information and the way credit bureaus assemble and hold information.

New York Times News Service

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced last week that it would begin supervising the leading credit bureaus, the companies that collect financial details of everyone's life.

The bureau will oversee and make rules covering about 30 credit-reporting companies, representing 94 percent of the $4 billion credit-reporting market.

The rules will apply to the three big credit-reporting firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and others with more than $7 million in annual revenue.

No single entity

The credit-reporting companies already must abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and they have also been subject to congressional oversight, but they lacked a single federal overseer, said bureau director Richard Cordray.

"The fact that this industry has never before been subject to any federal supervision means there's a lot we don't know about it," said Cordray.

Credit reports have increasing importance in consumers' lives because they are used in many kinds of lending, by landlords in renting a property and even as a way to screen job applicants.

And various reports have found that up to 25 percent of credit reports contain errors that could hurt consumers' ability to borrow.

Among the common mistakes in credit reports, according to the consumer agency, are loans and credit cards the person never opened, accounts inaccurately shown as late or with incorrect credit limits, delinquency dates and Social Security numbers.

Cordray and his lieutenants took care to point out the industry's value in getting consumers car loans, credit cards and more, often very quickly.

But he also identified three areas of concern: the information sent to credit bureaus, the ways they assemble and hold information, and "how difficult it is to get the errors resolved" when consumers identify them.

Bureau's reach

The credit bureaus join mortgage brokers, payday lenders and credit-card companies among the institutions beyond banks that the bureau regulates.

The agency itself was a creation of the sweeping Dodd-Frank financial law in 2010.

This move is the first in a series of rule-makings to define "larger participants" among consumer financial companies, the bureau said.

The supervision of credit-reporting agencies will start Sept. 30, and the bureau will begin on-site examinations after that.

The bureau already is supervising loan originators, mortgage-servicing companies and payday lenders.

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