The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a place to complain when people think they are getting a raw deal from their financial institutions, and Texans are putting it to good use.The bureau has logged almost 6,000 complaints from Texans since it began its program almost two years ago. Nationwide, it has logged around 113,000 complaints.In Texas, the biggest problems concern mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts and credit reports.That mirrors the national data. Mortgage issues make up almost half the consumer complaints, and credit card complaints account for nearly a quarter.The process is simple: Consumers can file a complaint online, by phone or by fax, or through an old-fashioned letter. Each case is assigned a number so consumers can track its progress through the system.The bureau sends the complaint to the financial company involved or to another agency if the company is not within the bureaus purview.While a spokeswoman said the bureau facilitates rather than investigates complaints, the agency does have the attention of companies it oversees.A case in point is a recent error on the credit report of a Keller woman well call Anne. She asked that her name not be used to protect her identity.Anne received a letter from Equifax, one of the big credit bureaus, after a collection agency reported that she failed to pay a medical bill while in a rehab facility.She said she never saw the doctor in question, never got a bill and never heard from the collection agency. Equifax sent her a letter because the address from the collection agency was for the rehab facility and was different from her home address.With the collection agencys ding on her credit report, her score dropped 200 points, to the 600s, she said.We couldnt take a loan on a car or get a mortgage it was terrible, her husband said.The couple cleared up the issue with the doctor and with Experian and TransUnion, the two other big credit bureaus. They removed the collection notice from her report.But Equifax wouldnt budge.After a year of trying, Annes husband notified me and I recommended the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He filled out an online form, and Equifax cleared up the report in a week.The bureau said it gives companies 15 days to provide a preliminary response to a complaint, then up to 60 days for a detailed response. The agency doesnt track resolutions but does provide a route for consumers to monitor their complaints.We do enforce 18 consumer protection laws, the spokeswoman said. Our goal is to better understand the market and companies violating the law.All complaints and responses are posted on the agencys website, www.consumerfinance.gov.Errors on credit reports are not as common as they once were. A recent study by the Federal Trade Commission showed that among a group of consumers who looked up their reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, only 5 percent found something wrong.But the study also showed that, among those who found an error, 25 percent said it was big enough to affect their credit scores.Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian, said the information is only as good as what lenders report to the credit bureaus.Were the library, she said. We store the book. We dont write the book.Sweet said the staff of 500 at Experean's customer service center in Allen, north of Dallas, works every complaint and notifies the lender, collection agency or other party that reported the disputed information.If the bureau doesnt hear back from that party, the information is deleted, she said.If the dispute cant be resolved in a timely manner, Sweet recommends that consumers give the credit bureau documentation that supports their position. That might be a police report, a release letter from a collection agency, or a correction to a tax lien or other public record. The credit bureau can use the documentation to support removing the error.Want to talk to a live person from the credit bureau? Its a complaint Sweet says she hears regularly. Heres how to do it.First, get your credit report for any of the Big Three credit bureaus by using AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 877-322-8228.Your report should include another toll-free number for the credit bureau youre interested in, as well as a report number. Call that number and ask for an agent to discuss your report.Sweet said a complaint through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may encourage the company that reported the disputed information to notify a credit bureau more quickly.It shouldnt ideally be different, but sometimes it does get their attention more, she said. A complaint from the attorney general can work the same way.In December, the consumer bureau said Equifax, Experian and TransUnion each have more than 200 million files on consumers.In a typical month, the bureaus receive updates from around 10,000 information furnishers, entities that supply data on consumers.The furnishers do so on more than 1.3 billion trade lines, or individual information sources, on a consumer report. Examples of trade lines are a consumers account for a car loan, mortgage loan or credit card.Credit card companies supply more than half the updates 40 percent from bank cards and 18 percent from retail cards. Only 7 percent come from mortgage lenders or servicers, and 4 percent come from auto lenders.The consumer bureaus December report showed that in 2011, consumers reached out to credit bureaus around 8 million times, resulting in disputes about 32 million to 38 million items in their credit files. Almost 40 percent of the disputes concerned debt in collection.Consumers must be active participants in keeping their files clean, Sweet said. But the bureau says less than 20 percent obtain copies of their credit report each year.
Teresa McUsics column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net