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Do credit bureaus cater to the rich?

By Martha C. White ·
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Posted: 2 pm ET

Do credit bureaus have a two-tiered customer service system for helping customers resolve credit report disputes, in which wealthy or well-connected consumers get prompt, preferential treatment while the majority of us get shunted to some automated system processed by a far-off subcontractor? The three bureaus all deny this, but the New York Times' Sunday edition interviewed consumer-issues lawyers who claim the two-tier system is real, and that they have documents and interviews to prove it.

The paper says these lawyers charge that Experian, Equifax and TransUnion all have dispute resolution "express lanes," so to speak, which let the rich and powerful speak to a live, domestically-based associate who fast-tracks their resolution. The article profiles several people who have tried -- some for years -- to get errors removed from their credit reports to no avail. These people believe they're relegated to an automated system in which a complaint will be routed to an outsourced subcontractor overseas and handled perfunctorily, if at all.

A spokesman for the trade association representing the bureaus says automated dispute resolution is necessary because the volume of disputes has risen in tandem with people's growing reliance on their credit reports for everything from obtaining a loan or credit card to securing employment.

How this story will end remains to be seen, and any conclusion reached by the courts could be years in the future. In the meantime, though, there are a few things that any of us can do to help make a credit report dispute go more smoothly. Good follow-up and record keeping will go a long way toward helping resolve an issue.

First, figure out if you need to contact the creditor or the bureau to state your case. If the issue is one of mistaken or conflated identity, or a case of someone creating an account in your name, go to the bureau making the mistake. If it's a matter of a late payment or collection action that you never had showing up on your credit report, start with the creditor. Filing a dispute online is quicker than mailing in your claim, but do print out and keep copies of everything you send. Also document all follow-up correspondence, as well as any initial correspondence with a creditor.

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