Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has been hard at work utilizing the tools at her disposal to hold credit bureau Equifax accountable for its recent infraction of inaccurately reporting scores for millions of customers from March 17 to April 6, which resulted in credit and loan denials and higher interest rates. Initial phases of her plan included sending letters to Equifax and the CEOs of the nation’s largest commercial banks in which she demanded a timely response to several questions meant to help her completely understand the incident. She also sent a letter to Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to request a moratorium on Equifax.
Ahead of her response deadline request, Waters joined Blavity to discuss the ways erroneous credit scores impact the Black millennial community and what potential harmed consumers should do.
Black millennials are most negatively impacted
Millennials have borne the brunt of being blamed for everything from the takedown of Blockbuster Video to the rise in avocado prices. And why all of that may be speculation, one thing is for sure, millennials, Black millennials, in particular, have long suffered at the hands of irresponsible financial issues. Waters told Blavity that this is no fault of their own.
“I am very much aware that Blacks and Black millennials, in particular, are negatively impacted by these irresponsible credit bureaus,” Waters told Blavity. “So many millennials have done everything that we have told them, their parents have told them to do. They’ve gone to school, they’ve gotten degrees, they’ve prepared themselves for careers, only to get out here and find it’s not that easy.”
Waters said that millennials tend to struggle to earn money, which causes further financial issues.
“Millenials are not earning the money that they thought they would be earning based on everything that they have done. And if you don’t earn the money that you thought you should earn or have enough to make sure that a student loan is paid off or that you can pay the monthly payments on it and maybe you can have transportation and purchase a car. You can rent your own place and get outta your mama’s house or not have to stay with four other friends in some two-bedroom apartment. And even though we have millennials in the gig economy, that’s working two and three, and four jobs. When you get up against a credit bureau, that’s going to prevent you from getting credit and you can’t do any of these things to have a base and decent quality of life, then your elected officials should be concerned about this and we should be fighting to change this story.”
Black consumers in general have a history of being taken advantage of.
“I pay a lot of attention to Black consumers because Black consumers have been ripped off historically,” Waters said. “The most vulnerable people are charged the highest prices. The attention the credit scores are given is bad or just plain mistreatment of consumers in the way that they treat them as opposed to others.”
What to do if you think your scores are inaccurate
Since there are three credit bureaus, consumers might believe one reporting erroneous scores may not have much impact. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, as one incorrect score can throw off your entire credit worthiness. Credit scores are directly responsible for determining whether you qualify for credit or how much you’ll pay for it if you are approved for things like loans and other similar accounts.
Waters told Blavity that if you think your scores are inaccurate, you should question them.
“Don’t accept what they tell you, fight with them, resist it and make them tell you or prove why you gotta have a higher score or why you gotta have high-interest rates,” Waters said. “Call your elected official — your member of Congress. We’ve got the oversight for these credit bureaus and we know that the giving of wrong credit scores is not the first thing that Equifax has done.”
Waters highlighted Equifax’s 2017 data breach that compromised the private records of 147.9 million Americans, 15.2 million British citizens and about 19,000 Canadian citizens. She said that it is time for real accountability when it comes to protecting consumers harmed by Equifax.
“They’ve been involved with violation of privacy and many other things that we’ve had to deal with. And we are not interested in just them getting fined anymore. We want real accountability and for the people who have been harmed by the incorrect credit scores that they have been given, we want them compensated,” she said.
“We are very much aware that our credit bureaus have not always acted responsibly and they have so much power. We are putting together some very tough language in a bill to not only make sure that those people who have been harmed are compensated or corrections are made, but we’re also asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that too has oversight over them, maybe to make a moratorium on their being able to do anything else until they clear this mess up.”
Properly directing your anger step-by-step
Waters said she believes that being angry about what’s happening is a proper recourse, but action must be taken as well.
“Well, I think the first anger is at where the resistance to treating you fair comes when you run into a situation with a credit bureau or any place where you are managing your life when you’re not treated right. That’s where your first anger is directed,” she said. “Then, the next thing is you gotta find out how this system works. And if usually, you’re talking to the person who maybe is not making the final decision. You say, ‘give me your supervisor, get me your manager.’ And then, of course, I think that you should be involved with your elected officials to give them your experience and what has happened to you and document everything so that your elected official could get on it and make it right.”
Should you trust the other credit bureaus?
“No, absolutely not,” Waters said. “Not that I’m saying they’re all doing the same thing. But the first thing that we know and we learned was they mix up names and have you identified as someone you’re not, and they’re decreasing your credit score because you’re supposedly this other person. And so, absolutely don’t trust any of them. Question them, push back when they give you your first credit scores if you don’t think they’re right. And then, of course, call your elected official if you think that you have been harmed.”
What happens if the banks and Equifax don't respond to the letters?
Waters’ letters to big bank CEOs and Equifax have a hard response deadline of Aug. 16. And, she told Blavity that she expects to receive the requested detailed responses, or she intends to take swift recourse.
“We have any number of things we can do. We can call in here for a public hearing, number one, and we can go over everything that we have learned about them,” she said. “We can work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which also has some authority to issue some new rules. We can work with the banks that they deal with to talk about, you know, that you’ve been getting bad credit scores and you’ve been turning people down — what are you gonna do about it? And we can think of something in the bill that forces them to have to deal with the issue because we wanna get from them as much information as we can.”
While she requested a moratorium during this process, Waters stressed that it might also be time for Equifax to face higher consequences.
“Even though it gets very difficult and very complicated, there are some people who need to be put out of business or charged with criminal activity,” she said. “I know that it is a very, very complicated deal to shut ’em down, but that’s in the back of my head. The basic responsibility that we have is to create laws, not only to fix things but to make sure that consumers are being treated fairly.”
How consumers can support these efforts
Waters said that consumers should speak up more often.
“I think consumers really must be more involved in resisting discrimination and inequality and not let it go that you’re too busy or you’re too embarrassed, or you don’t really know how to do it,” she said. “The first thing I say is to speak up. You would be surprised oftentimes in speaking up how you will be responded to and how this will put them on notice that they’re not to do the next person this way by catching them in a lie or fraudulent activity. Speak up, don’t just go away.”
She also urges consumers to communicate with their elected officials and members of the media.
“Let them know what happened to you. Put it in writing. Email it so that elected officials can take that experience and use it and put it into legislation to correct something. And then, if you have the opportunity to talk with the media about it, whether it is a talk show or whether you are on television, a radio program, Blavity — talk about it. And then other people will get talking about it. And then everybody is calling the elected officials and saying, ‘this happened to me, too.’ I think these are ways.”
While venting to a friend can be healthy, it can’t solve the issue.
“Don’t just tell a friend how angry you are about something that happened. Get it to your elected official and talk about it and let other people know that this is happening not only to you but ask them, ‘is it happening to you also?'”
The biggest thing to note, however, is how impactful credit scores are.
“Credit scores can determine whether or not you build wealth and whether or not you have wealth to pass on or wealth to invest in businesses or whatever you need the credit for,” Waters said. “And so this is very, very important.”
Waters said that if you have issues contacting your member of Congress, reach out to her office and she will assist in making contact.
“Let me know so that I can see what we can do, even though it may be outside of my district,” she said. “This is very important.”