Keeping Score: Our Credit Score, Our Right
As mid-April draws near, it is safe to say that most Americans have money on their mind. With tax day less than a week away, ‘tis the season… to be evaluating your financial decisions.
In this economy, homes are being foreclosed left and right, and going into debt is an increasingly common occurrence. About 4 million homes have been foreclosed on so far, according to ProPublica.org — meaning that the 4 million or so families living in them have been evicted.
58-year-old Sheila Ramos and her three grandchildren are some of them. She and her grandchildren were forced to leave her three-bedroom Florida home once it was claimed by the banks after falling desperately behind on the mortgage. Ramos took out these mortgages not to splurge or live ridiculously beyond her means, but to start her own business, and later to cope with injuries from a car accident. She now has to care for her three grandchildren out of a tent, without electricity, on a remote patch of land on a friend’s property on the Big Island of Hawaii. Her story is just one out of 4 million — and counting — in the United States.
Keeping track of your financial standing is important as ever — and being familiar with your credit report and credit score is critical to keeping afloat in the often treacherous waters of personal finances. Sadly, many things beyond our control contribute to financial catastrophes, such as divorces, hospital bills and other unforeseen expenses. Enabling Americans to be more financially responsible by making credit scores accessible and free is one way we can prevent bankruptcy, debt and homelessness.
Your credit score and your credit report are both important pieces of information that can help you get a handle on your personal finances. Both allow companies, landlords, banks and employers to have a glimpse into your money-managing habits, which they then use to make major life-altering decisions about you — like determining your eligibility to own or rent a house, have a certain job or take out on a loan.
One significant difference between these two forms of credit records is that the law grants you the ability to obtain your credit report for free, while in order to access your credit score, you are usually forced to pay fees or may be subjected to sketchy online “offers.” Both your credit report and your credit score determine so much of your future, it’s outrageous that only one is easily available to you. What’s more, the comparable inaccessibility limits the access of many people who would benefit from keeping track of their credit score. This is unfair; for such an important piece of information that has the potential to save people from desperate financial situations, being able to access and keep track of your own credit score should be your right.
In 2003, access to your credit report became free under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, which was the end result of consumers and advocates fighting for the ability to access our credit reports. This shows us that it’s possible for the public to demand our right to our own financial information. If we once again make it loud and clear to Congress that it is also our right to be in the know about our own credit scores, we can extend this law to encompass credit scores as well.
If we want to improve the economic situation in the United States as a whole, we should start with Americans’ pocketbooks. Poverty and even homelessness can be avoided with this simple addendum to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act.
The nonprofit Consumers Union has acknowledged, “Consumers won the right to a free copy of their credit reports nearly a decade ago by bombarding Congress with hundreds of thousands of messages.” This, as we know, was a huge success—resulting in the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act. There is no reason why our access to credit scores should be any more limited than that of our credit reports. Let’s show Congress (again) that Americans want to be financially responsible for themselves by demanding our right to our own credit scores.