In the world of consumer credit, there are a number of Federal laws or “statutes” which help consumers in regards to their personal credit. Two such notable statutes are the Fair Credit Reporting Act, more commonly referred to as the “FCRA”, and the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009, more commonly referred to as the “CARD Act.”
Both of these laws are consumer protection statutes, meaning they were designed to protect consumers from supposed big bad industry players. But do they really help consumers to better manage or even to establish or re-establish credit? If you dig deeper into the fine print of some of the so-called “protections” you might answer, “no.”
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
The FCRA has been around since the early 1970s, is some 90 pages long and has been amended dozens of times. In the world of consumer credit reporting, the FCRA is essentially the Bible. The FCRA is best known for providing the following protections to consumers, complete with its shortcomings;
Right to free credit reports: Since 2003 every U.S. citizen with credit reports has had the right to see those credit reports at no cost once every 12 months. The website where you can claim those Federal freebies is www.annualcreditreport.com. I’ve often made the point that while “once every 12 months” may have made sense in 2003, it doesn’t make sense in 2019. Given the number of large-scale data breaches and expanding consumer awareness of credit reporting it seems like once every 12 months has become insufficient.
Right to dispute: If you believe something on your credit reports is incorrect, you have the right to dispute that information, for free. When you dispute the information the credit reporting agencies and the companies that furnished the information must perform a reasonable investigation. Many years ago I was critical of this process, but my stance has evolved.
The dispute process has become much more consumer-friendly and is normally completed within a couple of weeks rather than the allowed-for 30 days. Consumers can now add supporting documents/attachments to their dispute communications and the credit reporting agencies can and do override responses from their data furnishers, disproving the assertion that the credit bureaus simply “parrot” what’s reported to them.
There are many other protections afforded to consumers by the FCRA, but some argue it falls short of helping consumers to establish or rebuild their credit. The reason is that the entire credit reporting system is voluntary.
The FCRA does not require any lender or service provider to report information to the credit bureaus. That’s why you generally don’t see things like rent or utilities on consumer credit reports. And, even in the lending environment, there’s no requirement that any lender must report your account or accounts to any or all of the credit bureaus. And while I’m not criticizing the Act’s silence on this issue, unknowing consumers may think they’re building credit by paying rent and utilities when they really aren’t.
Even in the world of authorized user tradelines, a common and effective method of building or rebuilding credit reports and credit scores, there are some card issuers that do not report to the credit reporting agencies. There’s no obligation in the FCRA for issuers to do so. As such, it’s important that if you’re being added as an authorized user to someone’s credit card that you do so with an issuer that does, in fact, report to the credit reporting agencies.
The Card Act
Let’s get something on the record…I really don’t like the CARD Act. The Card Act is the statute that makes it illegal for credit card issuers to grant credit to a consumer who is under 21 unless they have a job or a co-signer. The same consumer can get themselves into five or six figures of student loan debt, but they can’t open a credit card.
Additionally, many large credit card issuers don’t allow co-signers any longer. As such, the “co-signer” exclusion to the under-21 restriction of the CARD Act isn’t even an exclusion any longer, unless you want to limit your credit card options. Further, the under-21 rule also seems to suggest when someone turns 21 their financial or employment situation will immediately change, which isn’t a guarantee and certainly not tied to an age.
The under-21 restriction also puts everyone who doesn’t have a job or a co-signer three years behind the curve as to building their credit reports. Before the CARD Act, someone as young as 18 could have opened credit accounts in their name, no problem. This eventually served them well as they would start building credit at an earlier age.
Authorized Users Are Still A Good Option
The one way around all of this statute silliness is the authorized user strategy. There is no restriction to being added as an authorized user to a credit card, regardless of your age. As such, people who are under 21 can still begin to build credit, improve their credit scores, and enjoy the benefits of using plastic.
John Ulzheimer is a nationally recognized expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. He is the President of The Ulzheimer Group and the author of four books about consumer credit. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has 27+ years of experience in the consumer credit industry, has served as a credit expert witness in more than 370 lawsuits, and has been qualified to testify in both Federal and State courts on the topic of consumer credit. John serves as a guest lecturer at The University of Georgia and Emory University’s School of Law.