Oregonian’s received a new tool to keep track of their credit rating Dec. 1, as a federal law granting access to free credit reports rolled out on the West coast.
Congresswoman Darlene Hooley visited Portland State University to recognize the beginning implementation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA), which amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), requiring Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – the three major credit card bureaus, to provide consumers the option of a free credit report once a year.
Previously, credit reports cost $30 to obtain.
In over a year free credit reports will become available in the Midwest and the East Coast as well.
A credit report is a record of a person’s financial history. The credit card bureaus sell that financial history in the report to employers, insurers, creditors and other businesses that use that information to evaluate applications for employment, insurance, credit and home rentals.
Hooley said that 50 percent of credit reports have errors on them, which could affect someone’s application for credit.
Some of those errors are small, such as spelling errors, but some can be the result of identity theft.
Allowing people access to a free credit report is a chance for people to take responsibility for their credit, Hooley said, as well as file a dispute if any of the information is incorrect.
The credit bill took almost five years to wind its way through the federal government before finally passing in 2003. Part of the reason it took so long is because people didn’t understand identity theft was a growing problem, Hooley said.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 2,909 cases of identity theft were reported in Oregon in 2003.
Based on the 2,771 identity theft victims in Oregon who gave their age, 27 percent of those victims fall into the 18-29 age range.
Hooley came to PSU to raise awareness among young people.
"This is the time people are establishing their credit," she said.
Another road block was getting the three credit card bureaus to make a $30 product free.
"We worked with them very deliberately day in and day out," Hooley said.
John Prible, Hooley’s senior legislative assistant, says this is the first time a private company, the credit card bureaus, have been mandated to give away a product for free.
|How to get your free credit report
To obtain a free credit report go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
"It’s important to remember they didn’t have to agree," Prible said. "They certainly wouldn’t have chosen to do this for free."
But according to Jason Reynolds, executive director of the Oregon Consumer League, just because a free credit report can be obtained it doesn’t mean people are going to check their credit more often.
"I think people think if you don’t know, it can’t hurt you."
But it’s a step that Hooley believed necessary towards getting credit reporting and identity theft under control.
She said that five years ago she began to talk to victims of identity theft.
"You can be a victim of credit fraud and have no idea, none," Reynolds said.